Should Ofsted inspections better reflect the fact that there are networks involved in school improvement?
At the heart of the “self-improving system” is the idea that schools should co-operate in networks, where teachers and Heads , collaborate and exchange good practice to improve outcomes. This collaboration ,of course, must remain relevant to particular local contexts – so schools are not told to impose what worked in an affluent London borough on a school in a remote coastal town or rural area. This is more bottom up than top down. Or that at least is the theory.
Ofsted has a powerful influence on schools’ actions, but whether this influence is overall positive or negative depends on the type of school inspected and the quality of inspections.
Melanie Ehren a Senior lecturer at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at the Institute of Education, says that ‘The way schools and authorities operate in this “networked system” needs to become more localised, rather than dictated by a national inspection framework which treats all schools and their governing bodies in a similar manner. Instead, a group of schools and authorities should step up to take a joint responsibility for how well a school is functioning. Ofsted inspections need to reflect this by evaluating how schools and authorities take on that joint responsibility.’
School improvement is not simply, she adds, a linear process of inspection, intervention and improvement of individual schools and of individual authorities. Ehren argues plausibly that if the Department of Education really wants to move towards a self-improving school system, centred on collaboration, it needs to move away from thinking that individual schools operate in a vacuum. They don’t ,or at least shouldn’t. So, it follows that the inspection regime should take this into account.
The role and activities of the regional school commissioners is interesting in this respect as they are supposed to have a more holistic , cross cutting approach to school improvement across the areas for which they are responsible.