More changes to inspection
ASCL's response to consultations on the future of inspection and local authorities' role in post-16 education were the topics of debate at ASCL Council on 5-6 June in Tewkesbury.
Full Council debate
The first Council debate, led by Professional Committee, centred on the Ofsted consultation on changes to the inspection system for September 2009. There was general disappointment in the overall tone of the document which seems to start with the premise that if Ofsted is not looking over a school's shoulder, it will not improve. The language throughout implied a lack of trust. Council felt strongly that the purpose of inspection should be to evaluate the school's self-evaluation.
Council generally approved of the recommendation to effectively increase the number of grades from four to six, which is how it interpreted the effect of the sub-division of satisfactory. A proposal to reduce to three grades was discussed, but not approved. The danger of fewer grades, it was felt, would be that more schools would be pushed into special measures.
The point was raised that grading has subverted the nature of inspection. The argument in support of pass/fail grading is that either a school is doing well, or it isn't and needs some form of external support.
The proposal for unannounced inspection was robustly rejected on the grounds that it is unreliable, increases the administrative burden and is unnecessary. Again, it implies that schools cannot be trusted.
The majority of Council welcomed the proposal for more lesson observation. Inspectors, it was felt, spend too little time in lessons and generally it was considered that half an hour in each lesson would give a more accurate picture.
Regarding the proposal to take more account of the school's capacity to improve, this would be welcome as long as it was clearly defined and stated how inspectors would arrive at that judgement. It could replace the current unsatisfactory way of judging leadership and management.
Council felt that the recommendation that Ofsted write to parents following an inspection was not only patronising to parents, it was insulting to schools and yet more evidence of a lack of trust. It is schools' job to communicate with parents, not Ofsted's. The same was felt of the proposal for Ofsted to carry out an annual, national survey of parents.
Finally, a question in the consultation about using contextual value-added data raised suspicion that Ofsted may be considering a move back to raw data. Council felt strongly that CVA data was by far the most reliable, but inspectors needed to be reminded of its limits.
ASCL will make all of these points in its response to the consultation, which ends on 11 August. ASCL is also urging individual schools to respond and ASCL inspection specialist Keith Dennis has prepared guidance and outline responses for schools.
This is available on the website at www.ascl.org.uk/guidance under inspection.
Role of local authorities
Full Council debate
The second debate, arising from discussion at Public and Parliamentary Committee, was on the eMachinery of Government' changes set out in Raising Expectations: Enabling the system to deliver, which moves responsibility for 16-18 education from the LSC to local authorities.
Council agreed that requiring local authorities to collaborate in sub-regional groups was the best workable solution but it was clear that not enough thought had yet been given to how the sub-groups would operate or how big they would be. The real danger is that schools and colleges will not have time to attend all the meetings that this complex model . in addition to children's trusts . will entail. There was a feeling that the increased number of agencies would take up funding that should be going to young people; it would be more effective to give it to institutions so that it directly benefited students.
LAs' role in commissioning and the implications of this need much more clarity and detail. Based on previous experience, Council members did not have confidence in local authorities' ability to deliver. It was felt that LAs should not assess curriculum at course level, but rather determine whether courses provide a quality experience for students and offer appropriate routes to work and higher education.
Regarding funding, there was strong feeling that money must not go into the dedicated schools' grant. There should be a separate grant for post-16 that goes directly to schools and colleges.
There was agreement that LAs should not be allowed to invent new accountability measures but should use existing mechanisms, specifically Ofsted, SEFs and SARs and school improvement partners.
It was noted that the Framework for Excellence is being rolled out in colleges and would soon be introduced in schools. This is meant to be an intervention, rather than accountability, measure, but could be perceived as increasing accountability.
Finally Council members were urged to make sure their local authority has in place robust, detailed 14-19 plans and to urge colleagues in other schools to do the same.
The consultation on Raising Expectations closed shortly after the Council meeting.
To read ASCL's response, go to www.ascl.org.uk/consultations
Mary Curnock Cook of the QCA gave a presentation to the committee on the functional skills pilots. Level 2 functional skills in maths, English and ICT will be a requirement by 2010 for the diplomas and grade C at GCSE. These will replace key skills in apprenticeships. Awarding bodies are currently piloting a number of different assessment models and final decisions about the tests will be made before 2010.
The committee agreed with the principle of functional skills, but voiced strong concerns about the additional burden on assessment. The exam season is already too long and disruptive to other courses. While Mary said the hope is that functional skills would be embedded throughout the curriculum, the committee said that in reality, because of the link to GCSEs, schools would put students in for functional skills tests in years 9 or 10 so that there is the possibility to retake.
The proposal from the committee to the QCA was to replace Key Stage 3 exams with functional skills tests.
There was concern about the emphasis on context-based questions, especially for English as second language students. Students who do well with straight mathematics problems can struggle to put the concepts into a particular context. It was also felt that context questions give an advantage to middle class students.
Pay and Conditions Committee
Pay and conditional specialist Stephen Szemerenyi reported that the European Working Time Directive may impact on regulations on the total working hours per week for teachers and school leaders. The committee agreed that the status quo is preferable, but if change was necessary, ASCL could advocate 195 days a year plus 15 days' directed time and a weekly average of 48 hours a week. The committee agreed that England does not want to end up in the same position as Scotland, where teachers are limited to a maximum of 35 hours a week. This position will be further considered by the ASCL presidential trio before Stephen takes it to the Rewards and Incentives Group which will be debating the issue.
The committee considered two papers by ASCL funding specialist Lindsey Wharmby. The first assessed whether the post-16 national formula, which is activity-led, could be reworked to fit 14-16 funding. Lindsey compared the basic post-16 entitlement with the basic per pupil funding for 14-16 and concluded that the two figures were in the same ballpark, so in principle a move to activity-led 14-16 funding would not wipe out the current funding balance. ASCL has advocated a move to activity-led funding for all ages and the committee felt that this paper provided the evidence for a more detailed ASCL policy paper on activity-led funding.
The second paper looked at whether area cost adjustments were representative of real costs around the country. Lindsey's research found that, while there is a stark difference in London, there was little difference in costs in other parts of the country and, in fact, average teacher costs are slightly higher in the north than in the east and south east. However, the paper also provided evidence of significantly higher costs in small schools. The committee agreed that this work provides more justification for activity-led funding.
Post-16 CVA and LAT
Council heard that the DCSF appears determined to go live with the post-16 value added measure for the 2008 results even though there remains a number of concerns. Malcolm Trobe, ASCL past president, has been in discussions with the DCSF and LSC on this and the Learner Achievement Tracker (LAT), which is due to be in RAISEonline for all schools with sixth forms from November.
The LAT will be the principal measure that Ofsted will use for making judgements about school sixth forms. However the LAT and post-16 CVA can give quite different values for the same school. While some Council members expressed concerns with this, the majority felt that conflicting results were beneficial as they demonstrated that judgments cannot be made on one set of data alone.
The next ASCL council meeting will be held on 18-19 September
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