SAVE EDUCATION: DEFENESTRATE OFSTED and the DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION

An essay by Michael Bassey

Dear Reader,

I doubt whether you will have the time to read all of this   Teachers and other educationists lead busy lives and I guess that when you are able to put your feet up, with perhaps a glass of wine, you are reluctant to explore what a long-retired professor has said about the problems of your chosen career!

But may I urge you to read the Introduction.  There may be ideas of encouragement.

In bringing together some of my writing over the past thirty-five years I have become convinced that too few ministers and senior civil servants in the Department of Education have any idea what schools are about and what makes teachers tick. They have become obsessed with economic growth rather than with the all-round growth of children. So I make what may seem to be the outrageous suggestion that the Department should be abolished and replaced by a Council of people who understand the educational needs of our young people and know how to tackle them.

In pursuing this suggestion I have explored many aspects of the great enterprise of education, as set out here and, in so doing have formulated this description of the functions of education.

The great purposes of Education are to enable individual citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, to give them the intellectual tools that ensure they can survive and prosper, to help them to be moral beings supportive of their fellows, to equip them with the many and varied attributes that they can learn in their years of schooling, and enable them to continue to develop and learn purposefully throughout their lives in a contented pursuit of worthwhile life, liberty and happiness.

Happy reading.

    Michael Bassey                                                    April 2022


INTRODUCTION

I grieve at what is happening in our schools and fear for the future of the rising generation. They are being prepared for an economic world that is crumbling and cannot be rebuilt. They are not being prepared to tackle creatively whatever problems (inevitably now unknown) may arise in their lifetimes.

What we can expect is that these problems will arise from climate change, economic turmoil, and the human consequences of global shortage of food, water and energy. We can hope that future generations will find ways to establish sustainable ways of living with a reasonable quality of life for themselves and for their successors across the planet. The legacy that we will leave them is much worse than the one we inherited. At least we should ensure that they receive an education that equips them for troubled times.

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Language is amazing: fancy having a word for chucking someone out of a window! According to Wikipedia “Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. The term was coined around the time of an incident in Prague Castle in the year 1618 which became the spark that started the Thirty Years' War.“

But dictionaries also give a second meaning: “the action of forcing someone, especially a leader, out of his or her job". It is this use of the word that I employ in writing “SAVE EDUCATION: DEFENESTRATE OFSTED AND THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION”.  The aim is to end (not start) the thirty year war in England between a government department and the profession of teaching.

The thirty years began in 1992 when Ofsted was created by government “to improve the quality of education in state-funded schools”. In intention it was to ensure that schools enacted new government policies on education. In practice it has been disastrous. Dr Mary Bousted, joint secretary of the National Education Union tweeted, in November 2021, “Brutal is the word. Ofsted has no credibility left with the profession.”

My argument is that much of the work of the Department of Education could be transferred to a National Education Council for Schools composed of representatives of teachers, parents, academics and others with a stake in education.

The six government ministerial posts should be abolished. Executive officers in the Treasury should be responsible for the financing of education and in the Home Office for checking the credentials of teaching applicants. The National Education Council should embrace other significant functions of the Department and be funded by government with expenditure scrutinised by the National Audit Office. The funding of Ofsted should be transferred to local authorities to boost local inspectorates.

Yes, I argue that the Department of Education and Ofsted should be defenestrated (second meaning) and more enlightened ways found for carrying out their erstwhile functions.

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Since 2002 I have had 73 letters published in the national press commenting on the education system and attempting to suggest better structures for oversight and development of the work of our schools. Many have been stimulated by press articles by journalists who have expressed similar fears to my own and the pages where my letters appear often carry similar worries expressed by other correspondents. Regrettably, government has ignored our concerns.

In 2005 I put together a 44 page booklet “Teachers and Government: a History of Intervention in Education” which was published by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. These three paragraphs point to my conclusion.

“In 2003 an astonishing number of bodies attacked the continuing use of tests for assessing children’s progress, particularly in primary schooling. The list included teachers and headteachers through their subject associations, their unions and professional bodies, and a new alliance: writers, academics and researchers, parents and a mental health charity.”

“Professional concern about the pressure on children and teachers continued to be forcefully expressed during 2004 by representatives of a wide range of bodies: subject associations, unions, professional bodies, the General Teaching Council for England, charities and by researchers and parents. They weighed in variously against excessive testing, the development of a two-tier primary curriculum, bureaucratic workload, homework for young children, targets, league tables, value-added measures, central control and Ofsted inspections.”

“The evidence that government intervention has raised educational standards is strong: the evidence that this is now becoming counter-productive is even stronger. ”

I ended with these words.

“Everyone agrees that education in schools is about the nurture and development of every child - cognitively, socially, emotionally, physically, creatively, culturally, and holistically - and that experience of today is as important as preparation for tomorrow.

“But somehow this is forgotten when ministers push their pet schemes, when political parties eye the votes, when inspectors tick their schedules, when administrators prepare their league tables, when curriculum specialists prepare their syllabuses, and when test designers draw up their tests. But teachers don’t forget: they know that the whole child is the concern.

“It is time to stop: day by day it is teachers who know best what their pupils need. It is time for parliament to require government to trust teachers and to transfer to them the power to exercise that trust in the best interests of the pupils and parents whom they serve.”

Sadly, these words, in company with the protestations of so many others, were ignored and continue to be discounted.

Hence I come to what may seem an extraordinary conclusion, that the Department of Education and its enforcing agency Ofsted, should be abolished, or, in more colourful language, defenestrated !

Decisions about curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and evaluation, about what happens in classrooms and in schools, should be determined by teachers, who know best what their pupils need.

Teachers deserve, as argued here, a National Education Council, to give them that freedom and support their work.



I   CRISIS IN EDUCATION

The education system of England is in serious crisis, although the problems have been around for at least 20 years.

The crisis is caused by our national government. Why? It is because our politicians respond to what they perceive as the economic demands of the future and fail to recognise the ecological problems on the horizon.

This is what Nicky Morgan said in November 2014 when newly appointed as Secretary of State for Education:

“Now more than ever we need to ensure that more of our young people are leaving education, not just with the skills to succeed in modern Britain, but to compete in an increasingly global economy.”

The evidence shows that the Department of Education continues to take this view. As reported in the next chapter, five of the present six ministers came into political life from marketing and business and eleven of twelve senior staff have had no direct experience of school teaching.


GLOBAL ECONOMY OR ECOLOGY ?

Competing in the future global economy is the justification given for the various measures that put pressure on primary schools to improve SATs results and on secondary schools for better GCSE and A-level results in a narrow range of subjects. Many Conservative politicians add to that a belief that education should promote a social class hierarchy through selective schools.

Yet in 2020, as the Guardian announced on 28 September: “World leaders pledge to halt Earth’s destruction ahead of UN summit”.

Patrick Greenfield reported that:  “Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern and Boris Johnson are among 64 leaders from five continents warning that humanity is in a state of planetary emergency due to the climate crisis and the rampant destruction of life-sustaining ecosystems.”

Industrial economies depend today on burning fossil fuels - coal, gas and oil - which add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and exacerbate the greenhouse effect that is causing this climate crisis.

Looking ahead I am concerned that the future of our young people should entail surviving the changes in the global ecology rather than competing in the global economy. As everyone who keeps abreast of world news knows, and as our leaders have now publicly warned, the Earth is warming up, causing droughts that devastate agriculture in tropical parts of the world leading to mass starvation, and elsewhere raising devastating storms that destroy property and kill people.

Our education system should not be making matters worse, but regrettably that is what it is doing: it is designed to produce a workforce striving for growth in the national economy.


CONVIVIAL POLICIES

In my book “Convivial Policies for the Inevitable” (written in 2012) I wrote:

“Rethink education. Recognise that the current school curriculum is geared to the failing world of today: business as usual; financial whizz-kids wanted; entrepreneurs needed to boost exports; obedient factory workers and clerical workers with high literacy and computer skills required; the focus on an ethos of competition; a me-first culture and a society ruled by a feral elite.”

Ten years later I fear that this is still the case. I set out my hopes in the next paragraph:

“Instead, for their survival, young people need to develop physical fitness, cognitive skills, social sensitivities, civic skills and environmental understanding. For their quality of life they deserve convivial values and cultural knowledge of many branches. As citizens they need empowerment to achieve a collaborative and sustainable way of life based on critical reflection about society. Too little of this is happening in our schools today. We need community schools where educational decisions are made by teachers working collegially, supported by local governors, and financed but not controlled by central government.”

I should note that I use “convivial” in a particular sense, meaning:  “A way of living through which people gain quality of life and enjoy happiness by striving to be in harmony with themselves and with their social, cultural and natural environments.”

If they were free to design their own curriculum, schools should prepare young people for what the world of their adulthood may be like. Of course nobody knows what the world will be like in say thirty years time, but books like Laurence Smith’s “The New North: the World in 2050” (published in 2010) use extensive research findings to suggest it is likely to be very different from today.

“A world that by mid-century will have shifted its political and economic axes radically to the north. The beneficiaries of this new order, based on a bonanza of oil, natural gas, minerals and plentiful water, will be the Arctic regions of Russia, Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia. These nations will become increasingly prosperous, powerful and politically stable, while countries closer to the equator will face water shortages, ageing populations, crowded megacities and coastal flooding.”

A more speculative book is “The Collapse of Western Civilisation” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway (published in 2014) and purporting to be written some distance in the future.

“To the historian studying this tragic period of human history, the most astounding fact is that the victims knew what was happening and why. They knew that fossil fuels combustion was to blame. Western civilisation had the technological know-how and capability to effect an orderly transition to renewable energy, yet the available technologies were not implemented in time.”

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It may sound pedantic, but I argue that anyone who aims to talk or plan constructively about schools should first make clear what they understand by “education”. Many politicians and business executives will take a similar view to Nicky Morgan of education as essentially a preparation for work (as above), but, as a professor of education, I take a much broader view of the purposes of education, which I believe are shared by most teachers and educationists.

The great purposes of Education are to enable individual citizens to be capable of thinking for themselves, to give them the intellectual tools that ensure they can survive and prosper, to help them to be moral beings supportive of their fellows, to equip them with the many and varied attributes that they can learn in their years of schooling, and enable them to continue to develop and learn purposefully throughout their lives in a contented pursuit of worthwhile life, liberty and happiness.

These are the “many and varied attributes” that I hope young people experience at school:

Learning how to relate to others peacefully and with mutual respect;

Learning the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, and debating;

Learning the mathematical skills needed in every day life;

Developing natural talents for creative art: writing, drawing, painting, dancing, making music;

Learning healthy use of one’s body through diet, exercise and sport;

Learning to respect the natural world;

Beginning to learn of the cultural wealth that one can spend one’s life exploring in work and in leisure: science, history, geography, literature, philosophy, art, music, languages and much else;

Becoming a moral citizen with ethical standards and a commitment to community;

Finding out when to be tolerant, when to be assertive and when to stand up for one’s rights;

Learning how to go on learning for the rest of one’s life – and finding the pleasure of it;

Learning to know and value oneself;

and through all of this preparing for work, home and play in a world which will be more dangerous than now, because of global warming.

To me, these ideas define what schools and the work of teachers should be about. No doubt others would add to them or express them differently, but, by and large, I expect a consensus among teachers and other educationists that these are what matters. It follows that teachers need to be well educated and strongly committed people who are trusted by society. And that is what I believe is true of the vast majority of teachers. But in addition they need to be professionally trained so that their commitment is focussed on handling the characteristics and development paths of young people. Sadly professional training is not considered essential by the present administration.

In all this, schools should be joyful places as they go about the business of preparing young people for the good life in terms of work, home and play. Teachers should be warm-hearted professional firebrands, inspiring the young: as philosophers have said since the time of the ancient Greeks, they should be lighting fires not filling buckets.

I fear many of our politicians do not understand this since they measure the success of schools in terms of SAT results at 11, GCSE results at 16 and numbers of entrants to universities at 18 plus. Because there can be no measure of a well-rounded person, politicians seem to forget this as the ultimate aim of schooling.

For education in England today, there is no logic to explain why things are as they are, other than the illogic of ideology based on competitive capitalism and social class hierarchy. Some extracts from letters in Part II illustrate this ideology.

Excessive testing, ruthless inspection and ministerial tinkering are turning our schools into skills factories which produce conformist workers for a wealth-obsessed society.” 11 June 2007

“The Coalition government is driven by an ideological intent to push schools towards privatisation”. 17 September 2013

“In effect recent governments of left and right have treated teachers in state schools as knowledge-transmitting and skills-training technicians who need to be given a manual and rule book in order to operate in a pupil factory and who need rigorous inspection and regular pupil assessment in order to ensure that they are working at maximum efficiency and obeying the employer’s rules.  This micro-management has done enormous harm.”12 April 2015

“The dismantling of local authority oversight of schools is an example of ideological change with an absence of supporting evidence that it will improve schools. Another is the burdening of primary education with testing.” 6 December 2016

“Kevin Courtney (joint general secretary of the National Education Union): ‘Requiring schools to compete as if they are supermarket chains treats children as commodities’”. 11 October 2017

“Tim Brighouse: ‘Ministers exercise too much power and too little judgement’”. 5 April 2018

“The government has instructed schools not to use anti-capitalist material, because it is an ‘extreme political stance’”. 1 October 2020

I hope that what I have expressed in this chapter makes clear what is my answer to the question “Should Education be about the global economy or the global ecology?”

Unquestionably the latter!



II   WHO SHOULD DECIDE WHAT SCHOOLS DO ?

The central question of this book is who should decide on the pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and evaluation carried out in schools? Over the last century there have been different answers.


AUTONOMOUS TEACHERS OF TWENTIETH CENTURY

In 1905, the Board of Education of England declared in its handbook, aptly called Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers, that:  “Each teacher shall think for himself, and work out for himself such methods of teaching as may use his powers to the best advantage and be best suited to the particular needs and conditions of the school.  Uniformity in details of practice (except in the mere routine of school management) is not desirable, even if it were attainable.  But freedom implies a corresponding responsibility in its use.”

This model, the autonomous teacher, dominated English schools for most of the twentieth century.  To a limited extent it was very successful.  In 1941, the gloomiest time for England during World War II, G M Trevelyan put a footnote on the last page of his English Social History:  “If we win this war, it will have been won in the primary and secondary schools.” 

A few years later, Sir Ernest Barker in National Character, wrote:  “Anyone who knows our State schools, primary and secondary, will be proud of the work which their teachers are doing to enrich and deepen national character, not only by what they teach, but also by what they do and what they are”.

Certainly in the hands of the best teachers it provided an excellent education, giving full rein to their creativity, insights and enthusiasm. But, because of its autonomous nature, it isolated the weaker teachers and deprived them of both the criticism and the support they needed in order to improve their practice.  Worse, it tended to protect any incompetence on the spurious grounds that it would be unprofessional for other teachers to interfere.  Each teacher could shut the classroom door and say to the world, ‘keep out’.  Only the very occasional HMI inspection – or the forceful headteacher – could push open that door.


EDUCATION REFORM ACT 1988

The 1988 Education Reform Act was a justifiable assault on the idea of the autonomous teacher.  National testing at 7, 11, and 14 was introduced (with the initial benefit that every teacher came to recognise assessment as an essential part of effective teaching).  A universal curriculum was introduced.

Within a few years schools had changed enormously.  There were mechanisms to remove very weak teachers.  Schools had more control over their budgets.  Governors were given more powers – and, like headteachers, given appropriate training.  Corporal punishment stopped.  Parents were regularly informed of their child’s progress and seen as a vital partner in the educational process.  In 1992 OFSTED began to regularly inspect schools.   

 

TEACHERS BECOME KNOWLEDGE-AND-SKILLS TECHNICIANS

Unfortunately, in the years following 1988, government ministers and government-appointed agencies became more and more prescriptive in their determination to raise standards in schools.  The external testing of pupils and inspection of teachers and schools became perceived by many almost as instruments of persecution which were damaging what government was trying to improve. 

Teachers were no longer 'thinking for themselves' but becoming knowledge-and-skills technicians working to the government’s manual and rule-book!  Teachers lost the opportunity for spontaneity, creativity and educational insight that had characterised the work of the best in the profession, although the work of weaker teachers improved in a transformation in which “diamonds were dimmed and pebbles polished”. 

Schools were forced from one extreme to the other.  Neither gives all young people the best education in the widest sense.  What is needed is for schools, not individual teachers, to have autonomy and public trust. 


AUTONOMOUS SCHOOLS WITH COLLEGIAL TEACHERS

And so we come to the idea of the collegial teacher working in a collegial school where the classroom doors are, metaphorically if not literally, open. 

A collegial school is where decisions as to the most appropriate curriculum for the children would be taken by the staff of the school as a whole; where colleagues recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each other and draw encouragement from the first and give support to the second;  where assessment for learning has become part of the fabric of the school;  where assessment of attainment is regularly made by the teachers themselves and communicated to parents;  where the head is recognised as the educational leader of the school in both developing the pedagogy, curriculum and assessment of the school and in challenging and supporting the work of individual teachers;  where parents are regularly in touch with the educational development of their children; where the governors, seen as lay representatives of the parents and of the local community, are included in the educational discussions of the school and can, from time to time, give the local authority an accountability report on the extent to which the school is achieving its stated aim;  where the primary schools try not just to raise the standard of literacy and numeracy, but as with secondary schools, aim to raise the standard of the total educational experience of every child;  where the teachers enjoy the trust of parents and the respect of society at large; and where the school gates are open to parents and the local community, but closed to national government and its agencies.

Collegial schools would be far, far more effective at providing every child with a worthwhile education than are today’s government-controlled schools dominated by fiat, inspection and testing.  Which is why, in the next two chapters the Department of Education, which currently decides what schools should do, and OFSTED, which tries to enforce what the Department wants, are challenged.


III   WHAT WOULD BE LOST IF THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION WAS DEFENESTRATED ?

What national function does the Department of Education serve, and, if it were to be closed (“defenestrated” as the book title puts it), what would be lost?

SCHOOLING AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

The government website in January 2022 says the Department of Education:  “is the UK government department responsible for child protection, education (compulsory, further and higher education), apprenticeships and wider skills in England.”

On a later page it also gives “our priorities” starting with: “Drive economic growth through improving the skills pipeline, levelling up productivity and supporting people to work.”

and later notes:  “Level up education standards so that children and young people in every part of the country are prepared with the knowledge, skills, and qualifications they need. … Provide the best start in life through high-quality early education and childcare to raise standards and help parents to work.”

So there we have it. The purpose of schools is seen by our government to be to give the knowledge, skills and qualifications that will drive economic growth and, at the same time, house young children in classrooms so that their parents can go to work!

This is far removed from the “great purposes of Education” that I set out in the previous chapter and which I believe to be the view of most teachers and educationists.

In particular it does not recognise that the world that today’s school children will inherit will be, because of global warming, much more dangerous than today, and so will require skills of survival rather than skills contributing to economic growth.


CURRENT MINISTERS AND THEIR BACKGROUND

Contributing to national economic growth is where many of the parliamentarians in the department worked before joining it, and so it is no surprise that “driving economic growth” is their priority.

The present Secretary of State, [this was written in April 2022] Nadhim Zahawi, before entering Parliament worked as European Marketing Director for Smith and Brooks Ltd (wholesale sellers of clothing and footwear) and in May 2000 co-founded YouGov, an organisation engaged in internet-based market research. In August 2015, while an MP he was hired as a part-time chief strategy officer of Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd.

He is supported by two Ministers: Michelle Donelan MP (Universities) and Robin Walker MP (School Standards) and three Parliamentary Under-secretaries: Will Quince MP (Children and Families), Baroness Barran (School System), and Dr Alex Burghart MP (Apprenticeships and Skills).

Their pre-Parliamentary careers are revealing. Donaldson was in marketing, including time spent with Marie Claire magazine and World Wrestling Entertainment. Walker describes himself as a “businessman” having set up his own internet company and then worked in the City of London on finance. Quince was a market development executive, a customer development executive, and then a solicitor with a law firm. Barran was an investment banker in London and Paris, Burghart is the only one with teaching experience: he taught history first in a school and later at university.


WHAT ARE MINISTERS RESPONSIBILITIES ?

Wikipedia lists the following responsibilities of each minister.

Secretary of State. Overall responsibility for the department; early years; children's social care; teacher recruitment and retention; the school curriculum; school improvement; academies and free schools; further education; apprenticeships and skills; higher education.

Minister of State for Universities.  Strategy for post-16 education; universities and higher education reform; higher education student finance; widening participation in higher education; quality of higher education and the Teaching Excellence Framework; international education strategy; Opportunity Areas programme.

Minister of State for School Standards.  Recruitment and retention of teachers and school leaders (including initial teacher training, qualifications and professional development); supporting a high-quality teaching profession and reducing teacher workload; Teaching Regulation Agency; admissions and school transport; school revenue funding, including the national funding formula for schools; curriculum and qualifications; Standards and Testing Agency and primary assessment; school accountability and inspection; support for raising school standards; school sport; pupil premium; relationships, sex, and health education; and personal, social, health and economic education; behaviour and attendance and exclusions; early education curriculum and teaching quality.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families.  Children's social care including system and funding, workforce, child protection, children in care, adoption, care leavers and local authority performance; special educational needs, including high needs funding; early years policy and childcare, including funding, providers, workforce, children's centres, home learning environment and childcare entitlements; alternative provision; disadvantage and social mobility; school food including free school meals; children and young people's mental health, online safety and preventing bullying in schools; policy to protect against serious violence.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for Apprenticeships & Skills. Strategy for post-16 education; technical education and skills including T Levels and qualifications review; apprenticeships including traineeships; further education workforce; further education provider market including quality and improvement and further education efficiency; adult education, including the National Retraining Scheme and basic skills; Institutes of Technology and National Colleges; reducing the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training; careers education, information and guidance including the Careers and Enterprise Company.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the School System. Free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools; academies and multi-academy trusts, including governance; faith schools; independent schools; home education and supplementary schools; intervention in underperforming schools, including trust capacity funds; school capital investment (including pupil place planning, new school places and school condition); counter extremism and integration in schools; safeguarding in schools and post-16 settings; school efficiency; departmental efficiency and commercial.


SENIOR STAFF IN THE DEPARTMENT

What of the advisers, the people who assist the ministers and who, no doubt, are engaged in the above lists of activities listed for each minister ? The website (in April 2022) lists the following people and provides information about their prior work.

Susan Acland-Hood. Permanent Secretary. “Civil servant since 1999”

John Edwards. Interim Chief Executive, Education and Skills Funding Agency. “He began his career as a teacher of mathematics and senior leader in secondary schools, before moving into local government.”

Mike Green. Chief Operating Officer, Operations Group. “Before joining the Civil Service, Mike was a civil engineer and spent his career in the private sector working for companies such as Boots.”

Paul Kett. Director General, Higher and Further Education Group. “Immediately before his appointment at DfE, he worked for the British Army as a member of the Army Board in the role of Director Army Reform. Paul spent much of his earlier civil service career with the Ministry of Justice”

Julia Kinniburgh. Director General, Covid-19 Response and Schools Recovery “Senior roles at HM Revenue & Customs and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. She has also held roles with the emergency services and local government”

Andrew McCully. Director General, Early Years and Schools.  “32-year career in the civil service”

Indra Morris. Director General, Children’s Services, Communications & Strategy Group. “Indra started her career in 1995, joining the Department for Social Security as a fast streamer”

Richard Pennycook. Lead non-executive board member and non-executive board member with responsibility for the Union. “He is chair of Howdens Joinery, Fenwick and the Hut Group, and chair of the British Retail Consortium. Between March 2014 and February 2017 he was Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group.”

Ian Ferguson. Non-executive board member. “In 1981 he founded Metaswitch Networks, a company that develops telecommunications software.”

Baroness Ruby McGregorSmith. Non-executive board member. “Ruby was formerly the Chief Executive of the Mitie Group, a strategic outsourcing company,”

Toby Peyton-Jones. Non-executive board member. “With his early career as an officer in the Army he went on to hold a wide variety of international leadership roles within Siemens, working in China, USA and Europe.”

Nick Timothy. Non-Executive Director. “He is an author, a newspaper columnist and a member of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. He has extensive experience across Whitehall and Westminster, including serving in the Home Office and as joint chief of staff to the Prime Minister. Nick is also a visiting Professor at the University of Sheffield,”

So, of twelve people organising the Department and presumably in regular contact with the ministers, only one, John Edwards, has school teaching experience. In contrast the Defence Board of the Ministry of Defence is well supported by relevant professionals: its 5 ministers with 3 civil servants are joined by 3 admirals, 2 generals, and an air chief marshal!


DEPARTMENTAL STAFF

There are over 2000 employees in the Department for Education, presumably engaged in supporting the activities allocated (as above) to ministers and working under the direction of the senior staff listed above.


SECRETARIES OF STATE SINCE 2000

It seems that the Department of Education has nearly always been led by people who have never experienced the hard labour, the occasional joy, the holding of the interest of a class of young people, the need for constant vigilance and the maintenance of good order, for four or five hours a day, and then going home with a pile of exercise books to be marked and lessons to be prepared, which is the daily experience of school teachers.

Only one of the twelve secretaries of state of the Department during this century so far has come from an earlier career as a school teacher. Here is the list. (Evidence from Wikipedia). SoS stands for Secretary of State.

David Blunkett. SoS for Education and Employment May 1997-June 2001 Former occupation: Lecturer

Estelle Morris. SoS for Education and Skills  June 2001-October 2002 Former occupation: Comprehensive school teacher

Charles Clarke. SoS for Education and Skills October 2002-December 2004 Former occupation: Management consultant

Ruth Kelly. SoS for Education and Skills  December 2004-May 2006Former occupation: Economist

Alan Johnson. SoS for Education and Skills  May 2006-June 2007. Former occupation: Trade union official

Ed Balls. SoS for Children, Schools and Families. June 2007-May 2010. Former occupation: Economist

Michael Gove. SoS for Education. May 2010-July 2014  Former occupation: Journalist

Nicky Morgan. SoS for Education  July 2014-July 2016. Former occupation: Lawyer

Justine Greening. SoS for Education July 2016-January 2018 Former occupation: Accountant

Damian Hinds. SoS for Education January 2018-July 2019 Former occupation: Hotel management executive

Gavin Williamson. SoS for Education July 2019-September 2021 Former occupation: Pottery management executive

Nadhim Zahawi. SoS for Education September 2021 Former occupation: Marketing director and You Gov executive

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SUPPOSE MINISTERS TOOK A HOLIDAY

The first in my collection of letters set out in Part Two, published in 2002, comments on a list of 110 responsibilities of ministers as “a project for the children of Superman” and questions “whether they should be doing these things at all”. Twenty years later I ask the same question of the responsibilities listed above (which are very similar to the listings of 2002).

The lists at first glance seem to be extensive matters for ministers to attend to. But are they? Since most of our recent secretaries of state have had two years or less in office (David Blunkett and Michael Gove being an exception - four years) it is unlikely that they could really get to grips in that time with much of the work of the vast profession of teaching, particularly since for many of them their own schooling was their last real contact with education.

It is an interesting “thought experiment” to wonder what would happen to the education system if all six ministers took a six months holiday?

The answer is obvious. There would be no change. Our education system would continue to function; kids would still go to school; teachers continue to teach; governing bodies still meet; universities go on lecturing and doing research.

Indeed this would still be the case if the six never returned!

Actually there are two tasks which are essential. One: funding the salaries of teachers and support staff and funding the maintenance of school buildings and, where necessary, the building of new ones. Two: scrutiny of applicants for teaching to eliminate anyone with criminal convictions against children. The first could be handled by executives located in the Treasury, and the second by executives in the Ministry of Justice.


MY LETTERS IN THE PRESS

Many of my letters to the press have expressed concern about the way in which the variously named “Department for Education” in governments of both left and right, has sought to control the work of schools. A few quotations convey the depth of concern:

11 June 2007. “Excessive testing, ruthless inspection and ministerial tinkering are turning our schools into factories which produce conformist workers for a wealth obsessed society”

2 February 2010. “Educational issues of what is taught (curriculum), how it is taught (pedagogy), whether it is taught successfully (assessment), and how effectively each school tackles its tasks (evaluation), should properly be the province of teachers, working collegially, and supported by school governors, neighbouring schools, parents, the local authority inspectorate, and, nationally, educational researchers.”

19 June 2013. “Schools need to be freed from government diktats enforced by Ofsted inspections. Teachers want all of their pupils to succeed in life, and they should be left, school by school, to decide how best to contribute to that success.”

12 April 2015. “Although they would deny it, in effect recent governments of left and right have treated teachers in state schools as knowledge-transmitting and skills-training technicians who need to be given a manual and rule book in order to operate in a pupil factory and who need rigorous inspection and regular pupil assessment in order to ensure that they are working at maximum efficiency and obeying the employer’s rules.”

13 October 2015. “The government requires teachers to produce volumes of paperwork justifying their classroom planning and recording its results. Irrelevant management theories of evidential accountability have played havoc with teachers’ workloads.  The resultant long hours of evening paperwork, coupled with a restrictive national curriculum, testing of pupils on an industrial scale, imposition of arbitrary floor standards for school achievement, gruelling inspections that criticise rather than support school work, performance-related pay where performance cannot be judged fairly, league tables that put schools into competition rather than collaboration, and the bizarre uncertainties of academisation with local authorities replaced by cross-country academy chains, all contribute to the disillusionment of classroom teachers, the fears of head teachers that they may lose their jobs, and explain not only a shortage of teachers but why it will get worse.”

4 January 2022. “It would seem that schools are being seen by the Department for Education as simply holding places to keep children off the streets and away from homes so that their parents can go to work!”


DEFENESTRATION

So, my answer to “do we need ministers of Education?” is clear. No!

Specifically we should not have our education system governed by people whose life experiences are in commercial, journalistic, or desk-bound occupations and who see the purpose of schools as essentially preparation for similar work. Such functions as require national direction, save for the funding and scrutiny mentioned above, should be conducted nationally by sub-sections of a National Education Council, (as discussed in Chapter Five) composed of teachers, parents, academics and others, and locally by the education departments of local authorities.

The Department for Education should be defenestrated (second meaning), ie closed. No doubt this would require an Act of Parliament: after extensive pontification by politicians.

Some of its present functions should be taken on by the proposed National Education Council. This should be funded by government but not governed by it and, of course, its expenditure audited by the National Audit Office.

Among functions not replaced should be the preparation of league tables of schools. These perpetuate the idea that schools are in competition with each other. When parents live in a locality that gives them a choice of schools for their children, they should talk to other parents and visit the local schools in order to decide, not be bemused by unhelpful league tables.


IV: WHAT WOULD BE LOST IF OFSTED WAS DEFENESTRATED?

After thirty years of causing consternation and distress in schools, is Ofsted still needed?


OFSTED: THE OFFICE FOR STANDARDS IN EDUCATION, CHILDREN’S SERVICES AND SKILLS IN ENGLAND

Ofsted gives this description of itself. “Ofsted’s role is to make sure that organisations providing education, training and care services in England do so to a high standard for children and students. Every week, we carry out hundreds of inspections and regulatory visits throughout England and publish the results online. We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial.”

It has a large staff: “We have around 1,800 employees across our 8 regions. We also directly contract with more than 2,300 Ofsted Inspectors to carry out inspections of schools and further education and skills provision.”

It was created in 1992 “to improve the quality of education in state-funded schools”. Until 2005 schools were inspected for a week every six years with two months’ notice. Then it changed to two- or three-day visits every three years with two days’ notice. Over the years there have been a number of changes in its criteria. One in 2009 resulted in a reduction from 19% to 9% in the number of schools judged “Outstanding” and an increase from 4% to 10% of those judged “Inadequate”. In 2012 the school description “Satisfactory” was changed to “Requires Improvement”. By August 2021 Ofsted reported that “eighty-six per cent of all schools are good or outstanding”.


SOME OF THE EVIDENCE OF THE IMPACT OF OFSTED

In December 1999 the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) published for the National Union of Teachers an 87 page report entitled “The Impact of OFSTED Inspections“.

It concluded: “The interview and survey data indicated that teachers were not opposed to school inspection as such, and believed that accountability was essential. They objected to the OFSTED mode of inspection because it seemed to create as many problems as it solved.”

The bibliography of 28 papers included several with titles ending in a tell-tale question mark: School Improvement after Inspection?; A Better System of Inspection?; Improvement through Inspection?; Teacher gradings and OFSTED inspections: help or hinderance as a management tool? Ofsted and afterwards? Schools’ responses to inspection.

A research paper by Professor Peter Case (at Oxford Brookes University) published in 2000 based on a three year study of the impact of Ofsted inspection on primary teachers in 10 schools located in three different local authorities suggested that:  “Far from improving performance, OFSTED is actually having a detrimental impact on the well being of teachers, the education process and hence the ‘qualitative standard’ of schooling.”

An international review published in 2015 in School Leadership and Management of 35 substantial writings concluded that "inspections fail to contribute significantly to schools’ self-understanding, but they lead to a severe negative emotional impact on school staff.”

In 2017 Professor Frank Coffield (of the Institute of Education, London) wrote a book entitled “Will the Leopard change its Spots? A New Model for Inspection by Ofsted.” He concluded:  “Does Ofsted do more harm than good? The evidence shows that, despite some benefits, Ofsted’s methods are invalid, unreliable and unjust. Educators are diverted from looking after students to looking after inspectors.”

Ofsted revealed in November 2021 that it had been given an extra £24m in the government’s spending review to speed up the rate of inspections. The Guardian reported with a banner headline: “Plan to speed up Ofsted inspections of schools in England sparks fury.”

It continued: “Headteachers have reacted with fury and disbelief to government plans to accelerate Ofsted inspections, despite widespread calls from across the sector to suspend all routine inspections in view of the continuing Covid disruption in schools in England. …Critics said the schools inspectorate was facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence among education experts, professional bodies and school leaders, who have accused Ofsted of “losing the plot” and being ‘completely out of touch’ with reality.”


MY LETTERS IN THE PRESS

Between November 2007 and February 2020 I had six letters published attacking OFSTED inspections. Some extracts summarise the concerns which I know are shared by many;

25 November 2009. “Ofsted provides an ineffective form of accountability. It acts as a ruthless enforcer of government policies with a narrow vision which fails to take account of local circumstances. It is fear-inducing in a way alien to most teachers and social workers. It undermines their professional status. It fails to provide support to those needing it. There is a dearth of firm evidence that it has succeeded in raising educational standards.”

18 March 2014. “For many teachers its inspectors are fear-inducing and unsupportive; for headteachers an adverse report may cost their job; and overall it seems to promote a bullying culture in school staff rooms which would not be tolerated in playgrounds. It is time to close down Ofsted – and save £70 million of the national schools budget. Schools aren’t factories and don’t need tick-box inspection: to raise their profile they need dialogue with experienced fellow professionals.”

30 October 2014. “What is Ofsted for? Is this intimidating body with its constantly changing goalposts, the best way of spending millions on improving education? My answer is that, after 22 years meandering, it should be abolished. In its place is needed a re-vitalised, small, well-trained HM inspectorate looking at national issues and local inspectors/advisers giving challenge and support to schools in a locality that they are familiar with.”


DEFENESTRATION

Is Ofsted still needed after thirty years? “No!”

I say that from a recognition that the work of teachers in schools should be inspected from time to time to help ensure that they are as effective as possible in educating the young, but the modus operandi of Ofsted is not the way to do it.

Ofsted could have been valuable if it had treated teachers respectfully as fellow professionals to be inspected cordially, challenged where necessary, and guided and supported when appropriate.

But instead, throughout its 30 years of existence, it has engendered fear in those inspected, and, where it found fault, conveyed its criticisms to public, parents and sometimes pupils in a way which could undermine confidence in the school and its head.

The government should abolish Ofsted and recognise that local authority inspectors/advisers, aware of the impact of local factors on school performance, able to establish effective working relationships with teachers in their areas, and supported by a few national HMIs of distinction, are the best way of supporting the work of schools and maintaining high standards.

Yes, OFSTED should be defenestrated (second meaning) and its functions relocated with local inspectorates.

There is of course a problem with about half of our schools having left local authority oversight. Without necessarily changing the governing arrangements of schools, local authority oversight of all the schools (and young people) of their area needs to be restored.


V   A NATIONAL EDUCATION COUNCIL FOR SCHOOLS IS NEEDED

While suggesting that the Department of Education should be abolished because of its control of the national education system by non-educationists, I am sure that an oversight body is needed for the nation’s schools: I suggest a National Education Council for Schools. (Another council would be needed for post-school education). It should be established by Act of Parliament.

The Council should consist of an expert body of people with first-hand experience of schooling: teachers, union representatives, local education authority officers and inspector/advisers, and parents, with a few academics, business and professional people who have strong links with teaching.

Unlike ministers who rarely spend more than two years with education, the members of this National Education Council for Schools should expect to spend at least five years conducting their oversight function, engaging in it on a part-time basis. Inevitably it would be a large body and so should be led in its work by a small number of full-time officials with relevant experience, who report regularly to the Council and take guidance from it. Some of these people might come from the closed down Department.

The Council’s function would be to advise schools, teachers, governors and parents, as well as parliament, government, local authorities, professional bodies, and the general public on significant issues in educational practice and on the perceived educational needs of future society.

An obvious first task would be to define a mutually acceptable definition of education. This might not be easy, but unless the members of the Council know what they stand for, how can they operate?

Early on it should tackle two major questions about school assessments:

Are government tests needed in primary education since checking on what has been learned is an essential part of the regular work of teachers? [My view is “not needed”]

Can secondary school examinations be replaced by the recommendations of the Tomlinson Report of 2004 that GCSEs, A- and AS-Levels, BTECs and AVCEs be replaced by end-of-schooling diplomas? [My view is “yes to Tomlinson”]

Decisions arising from these considerations would need one or more acts of Parliament to resolve.

From this the Council should begin to examine critically other aspects of the state of national education in schools. Issues like:

* Teachers’ and other school workers’ morale and concerns over work-load;

* Young people’s well-being and reports of unhappiness among school children;

* The roles of parents in relation to schooling;

* The state, suitability and needful repair of school buildings.

Where problems are identified the relevant authorities should be pressured to tackle them.

Thereafter the Council could initiate research on aspects of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment of students, and evaluation and governance of schools, leading to the publication of non-mandatory guidance to schools on these matters.

Essentially the Council should state publicly that it is schools that should make educational decisions on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, based on teachers’ professional knowledge of their students, guided by publications of the Council, and in discussion with local community representatives.

A National Education Council for Schools would ensure that it is the professionalism of teachers that directs the education of our children, not the predilections of here-today gone-tomorrow ministers.

                                    *     *     *     *    *

The funding of such a Council should come from government. With the demise of the Department of Education and OFSTED, sufficient government funding should be available.

Other current responsibilities of the Department for Education could be subsumed by this new Council.

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