Good or Satisfactory: Can anyone tell?Posted: February 14, 2012
The new Chief Inspector, employing his “Dirty Harry” persona has decreed that “satisfactory” is no longer satisfactory, that there are hundreds of coasting schools and thousands of headteachers whose leadership is not good enough. Ministers, as ever, have to demonstrate their toughness by jumping on the bandwagon. Perhaps less predictably, Will Hutton joined in the assault talking about “the educational mediocrity that besets Britain” and “hundreds of underperforming schools”.
Perhaps we should start by going back to the inspection schedule. A satisfactory school is one in which “Pupils are progressing at least as well as all pupils nationally given their starting points. Pupils generally learn well in most subjects, with no major weaknesses. The standards of attainment of the majority of groups of pupils are likely to be in line with national averages for all pupils.”
Averages (Key Stage 2 maths, last time I looked) do seem to cause problems for journalists and apparently for Chief Inspectors. It’s quite a simple mathematical fact that not every school can be above average. In inspections “good” is a relative term meaning getting results better than quite a few others. So it follows that there must always be a good many satisfactory schools and indeed some unsatisfactory ones. Someone has to be bottom of any league table. We’ll have to completely re-write the Ofsted criteria if “good” is now to become a threshold that any school can reach, regardless of how they compare with others.
And we need to understand that we absolutely do not know how many schools would be good if we did change from a norm referenced system to a criterion referenced one. Nor do we know how many would be mediocre.
That’s not to say that we should be making excuses for under-performance. And there have indeed been times when things have been tolerated that shouldn’t have been. But some thought needs to be given to how you measure and to how you improve things. Not many good teachers would start by telling a class that a quarter of them are useless and should be got rid of. But apparently we think that that’s a sensible way of motivating heads and teachers.
What is less well realised is that all the structures that used to support teachers’ professional development are being demolished. Local authority advisory services are mostly gone. National Strategy teams are all gone. University education departments are under attack as trainee teachers are expected to learn on the job. All we’re left with is “schools supporting schools”. Certainly a valuable concept but is it enough on its own? And of course, lest we forget, academy status is an automatic route to improvement – isn’t it?
What is needed is an approach to performance management that focusses on improvement not punishment together with a professional and comprehensive framework for providing that support. If that kind of approach is the right one for pupils, isn’t it the right one for teachers too?