What if the same approach were taken with Schools from a disadvantaged background as were taken with disadvantaged students?
Like many in Education I have watched with interest as the latest iteration of the OFSTED school inspection framework has been hinted at and teased to the education world since September. I am hopeful that we will have an external evaluation framework that works in the best interests of improving our schools. However, I find myself slightly dismayed that we will find ourselves operating in a similar world to the one created by the current framework, albeit with an adjusted focus based on the school curriculum. Don’t get me wrong, I am in favour of a focus on curriculum, it is the bedrock by which schools should be operating and a good viewpoint from which to evaluate the work of the school in making improvements.
What worries me is that at the heart of the framework and therefore the judgements we will continue to assume that all schools are operating on a level playing field. This assumption, in my opinion, is damaging.
Whilst lighting the fire for the moral imperative in regard to disadvantaged students we often used the picture above to illustrate that for many of these students the playing field is not level – therefore our job as teachers, leaders and schools is to level it. As a system we readily accept this, understand it and act to address it, supported by additional funding. Is it not possible to take the same approach for our schools?
Schools can be disadvantaged for a number of reasons. For my School, Finance and School Improvement Timeline were two key factors:
- School Improvement Timeline – Historically, has the school kept pace with school improvement? If not, it is inevitable that it will be behind other schools
- Finance – all schools are suffering with funding reduction but some are struggling more than others.
I won’t describe in detail the reasons for this here, if you are interested please refer to my blog series ‘School – My leadership Story’.
Whilst writing our school self-evaluation we were sure to describe our context as we felt it was important in understanding where we were on our school improvement ‘journey’. The problem is that the framework has no place for context – interesting but irrelevant.
Imagine a world in which we took the same approach for disadvantaged students… i.e. we assume the playing field is level, taking no interest in the context of the child. In this world we would take no action to raise the child’s aspiration, attendance, engagement with education and the outcomes they achieve. We would assume that the playing field for them was level with all other students. Worse still, imagine, if having made this assumption of these children, we labelled them ‘inadequate’ for not keeping pace with their peers.
Of course, the disadvantage that a school might be operating in should not be used as an excuse. In the same way that we do not use it as an excuse for children. It should be the starting point for the evaluation of the strategic action plans that the school is using in order to address the context.
A good starting point would be to drop the term ‘inadequate’ from the framework. If a school needs to improve, the term ‘requiring improvement’ would seem to sum the situation up nicely. Next, let’s make ‘special measures’ mean something for those schools that are requiring improvement. The 500 schools identified by Amanda Spielman recently, will have been in receipt of ‘special measures’ as a consequence of their long-standing ‘Inadequate’ status… what have they actually been in receipt of that is special? Some steps appear to being taken in this regard (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-plans-to-support-underperforming-schools) but I would argue, is it enough? and at the heart of this is another assumption, that if a school is RI or Inadequate, and has been for some time that the leader(s) aren't good enough. (another blog post to come).
If we really want a framework that works for the improvement of all of our schools let’s stop assuming that the playing field is level and let’s start helping schools to level it.