Ofsted’s decision to suspend all routine inspection from 17 March quickly became irrelevant, as schools closed and staff scrambled to organise distance learning and to support parents in homeschooling their children. Now that the lockdown looks set to continue for weeks or months, how can we ensure that children are receiving a decent education?
Are we to have no school inspections during lockdown? Or should we instead find new ways to evaluate teaching and learning?
I believe we should continue inspections, albeit in a different form. Ofsted should continue to assess teaching and learning for reasons of 1) transparency, 2) improvement and 3) preparing us for when schools open again. The approach I suggest would require a redesign of the current framework, applying it to the current context of homeschooling and distance learning with more agile, mobile tools to collect data. Let me explain.
We need inspections, even (or particularly) in a time of crisis
Schools have more than enough to deal with now and will have welcomed the temporary suspension of routine inspections. However, if schools are closed for longer, we need some kind of accountability and evaluation for the following three reasons:
- Transparency: we need to know whether and how pupils are learning and how they are currently being educated; how parents are coping with homeschooling; to what extent schools are teaching online and how they are supporting parents in their new role as teachers.
- Improve: a good understanding of how homeschooling and online teaching are currently organized and where they are – or aren’t – working well enables a sharing of good practice across the country. It would also enable a more coordinated response, such as by developing online materials and assessments, or sharing a whole-group instruction from the best online teachers.
- Prepare: at some point schools will open again and teachers will be faced with students who have either progressed well or have stagnated in their learning, or who have major gaps in certain subject areas. Staff and students will need to relearn to manage a regular school day and whole class teaching and deal with the pressure of reintroducing exams. Depending on the length of the current isolation, and whether loved ones were ill or passed away, students may also experience stress or anxiety when coming back to school. Knowing how teaching and learning are currently organized, their quality and wider experiences of children and young adults will help prepare interventions and measures for a good start when schools open again. We weren’t prepared for the closure of schools, let’s at least try to prepare for schools reopening.
Inspection, when schools are closed: redefining (measures of) educational quality
But given that it is not ‘business as usual’, how should Ofsted inspect? After all, there are no schools to go to, no lessons to be observed, and no recent data available about pupils’ achievements.
What ‘educational quality’ means has drastically changed, as have the roles and responsibilities of those now tasked with teaching and learning.
Let’s reflect on these two matters to understand how Ofsted may be a force for good in the current situation.
First of all, how can we now understand ‘quality of education’ in a context of homeschooling and distance learning. Ofsted makes graded judgements on the following areas using the four-point scale:
- Quality of education: curriculum and learner outcomes
- Behaviour and attitudes of learners
- Personal development of learners
- Leadership and management
Educational quality: home-school partnerships
Applying these standards to the world we are currently in requires a substantial rethink. Ofsted now needs to look at the specific context in which students are learning, and the arrangements and home-school partnerships which are in place to
- implement the curriculum,
- ensure and promote respectful relations between parents (as teachers), teachers and children,
- ensure their personal development, particularly in a situation of stress, isolation and high anxiety, and
- safeguard children’s well-being.
This requires a very different type of leadership, where school principals need to manage their staff off-site and create a sense of community while also ensuring a school-wide approach to online learning. They also need to equip teachers with the professional skills to co-teach with parents.
Agile tools to measure quality of education
Ofsted needs to find new ways to collect evidence and monitor the quality of education.
Fortunately there are excellent examples of mobile apps to be used:
- Teachertapp, for example, sends thousands of teachers three quick multiple choice questions about their day or their opinions on teaching and offers weekly analysis of how different types of teachers responded to the questions we asked. Their last report provides a comprehensive overview of what distance learning now looks like, what is happening in schools and what teachers need and want during the closures. The data allows us to understand how schools are coordinating their online offer and how well-supported teachers are in moving to online teaching.
- Community score cards have been used in low and middle income countries (e.g. Ghana, India) to enable parents to monitor classroom teaching and learning (for example, reporting teacher attendance at specific moments during the day). Similar tools can be used, for such things as to find out how much time students are now learning at home, which subject areas are covered, and how they are supported by schools.
In this unprecedented and abrupt situation, we need to collect and share information about how to ensure high quality teaching and learning continues. Using more agile tools to measure quality and share lessons widely may even have the positive outcome of moving inspection to a more formative type of assessment.