A quick check in the mirrors before we signal the end of Ofsted observations.

It may be a bit early to put out the bunting and close the street ready for the party, but there does appear to be a growing, and widely drawn consensus that at the very least Ofsted should no longer grade individual lessons. This view extends across the spectrum of education opinion, from members of the blob, to school leaders, to teachers in the classroom and even some members of the inspectorate. So two quick questions: will it happen, and are there any unintended consequences lurking.

Firstly, will it happen? I would say that politically there is no potential loss here here to any SoS who made such a change. Given the mood music coming out of DfE and Ofsted recently about improving standards etc, a change could easily be folded into a “..now its time to concentrate on sustaining this improvement..” narrative. There is a clear opportunity for the Labour party if they wanted a distinctive education policy. There is a danger also in that it could then be used against them – “…the party run by the NUT, putting hard won gains at risk…”. For the Conservatives, I can’t really see a big upside to making the change as I suspect that the current SoS has won all the friends in the profession he is going to. However, there is no downside, and could be portrayed as quango-cutting opportunity.

Secondly, are there any unintended consequences? Undoubtedly. I am firmly in the schools must be inspected camp. If we agree that education is important, and that it should be a state provision, then we must also agree that it needs to be properly regulated to ensure it works well. And with regulation comes inspection (but as I pointed out here it does not need to rely on classroom observation). So Ofsted should continue in all other respects. So there is a slight fear that this could be seen as a slippery slope – “..we’ve won this battle, lets press on and destroy the beast…”

Another unintended consequence I fear is that removing classroom observation from the inspection regime would send a message that observation was not important. This would in my view be a mistake. If we accept that teacher quality is the fundamental in the education system then ensuring that it is at all times at least good should be the objective of a school as an organisation.

A third unintended consequence may well be that schools become more driven by data than is helpful, that data may be sought where none realistically exists. Which leads to it being made up. For example, I am a fan of levels (there, I said it out loud), but then someone made up imaginary sub-levels in order to meet a data need. Use data where it exists, and use it well, but beware men carrying clip-boards (and they are usually men, I have to say).

I would say, however, that the benefits of Ofsted ceasing to grade individual lessons far outweigh the likely effect of these caveats. This is not to say they can be ignored.

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