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Time to end the hire and fire, ‘football manager’ culture in schools, IPPR urges

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  • Changes in school governance should be based on regional leaders’ local knowledge, not on unreliable, one-word judgements by inspectors
  • Time to end top-down measures that undermine decision-making by parents, teachers and schools, says new report
  • Ofsted should split reports into two, with a narrative version for parents and a technical improvement report aimed at school leaders and the regulator

Education advocates call today for a transformative shift in school inspections, urging policy makers to move away from high-stakes, top-down accountability, towards a system that combines high standards with an approach that empowers schools and teachers to innovate and excel.

An over-reliance on punitive control is driving teachers out of the profession and distracting schools from responding to their communities’ needs, according to a new report from IPPR.

Overly simplistic inspection judgements – outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate – often trigger abrupt changes to management, fueling a ‘football manager culture’. This conflates the role of Ofsted as an inspectorate, with the regulatory role of Regional Directors whose job is to work locally, supporting excellence across schools, children’s social care and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The report highlights further criticisms of the current grading system, including accusations that it leads to headteachers chasing ‘outstanding’ grades, even if that comes at the expense of responding to their community’s needs.

Furthermore, teachers often say Ofsted inspections cause them stress, anxiety and can drive them out of the profession. Yet despite these potentially dramatic consequences, studies show that single-word judgements are unreliable and heavily dependent on which inspector turns up at the school gates.

The new paper from IPPR calls for far-reaching reforms to school inspection and regulation to drive educational improvement. Recommendations to the government include:

  • Scrapping single word overall judgements in Ofsted reports, and introducing new narrative-driven reports, specifically tailored to parents, guardians and pupils 
  • A new, three-tier regulatory response involving either ‘school-led development’, ‘enhanced support’, or ‘immediate action’ 
  • New inspections of chains that run groups of schools to help the regulator decide who is best placed to improve struggling schools.  
  • Long-term funding for Ofsted to bring together information ‘from the chalk-face’ in topical reports on key issues.

Today’s paper also calls on government to commit to a ‘world-class’ entitlement to teacher training. The report points out that teachers in England often receive less than 35 hours of training a year, compared to 100 hours a year in Singapore. It highlights evidence that skilled teachers are England’s best bet for improving achievement and closing the growing gap in attainment between poorer pupils and their peers. The report’s recommendations for tackling these challenges include:

  • Publishing an updated ‘teacher curriculum’ setting out what all teachers should learn in the first few years of their career, accompanied by a new set of standards for high-quality, ongoing professional development. 
  • Ending constant churn in government training initiatives and committing to stable, multi-year funding for a world-class menu of professional development. 
  • Ensuring all early-career teachers and their mentors are released from their timetables so they can participate in training.

Loic Menzies, report author, Visiting Fellow at Sheffield Institute of Education and former teacher, said:

“A football-manager culture, driven by one-dimensional judgements dominates our education system. Today’s report charts a path to a future in which high standards are combined with a supportive and empowering infrastructure that helps teachers and schools to be the best they can be.”

Efua Poku-Amanfo, research fellow at IPPR, said:

“The status-quo isn’t working. Tactics like league tables and targets have run out of road, we need a new approach to helping schools improve. We propose a new system which empowers schools and teachers to innovate, utilising their experience and expertise.”

Geoff Barton, General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) welcomed the report saying:

At a time when so much in education feels so bleakly dispiriting, this report offers not just optimism but actual solutions – ideas designed to help address the eyewatering teacher recruitment & retention crisis; ideas to rebalance the punitive system by which schools are measured; ideas to make our education system work better for parents, teachers, leaders and – most importantly – children and young people.

Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts also welcomed the report saying:

“This report on Improvement through Empowerment makes a very important contribution to the future of the school system in England. We, at the Confederation of School Trusts, absolutely agree with the limits of New Public Management. We think it is right that there is a debate about what comes next. It is important that we reset the dial on the relationship between the state and the public sector. We must build the resilience of our school system and build and create a stronger institutional architecture in education in England. The ideas in this report help us to debate what comes next.”

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