DEFIANCE, disobedience, disruption, disorder and disrespect! No, I am not describing the House of Commons and the Brexit debate. The ‘d’ words apply equally to our nation’s classrooms, as TCW’s recent publication of letters from a practising teacher so clearly revealed. The teaching profession is haemorrhaging members and descending into a twilight zone of angst and despair. ‘Get out if you can!’ is not a great selling point for potential recruits. Nor does it do justice to what should be amongst the greatest of vocations.
It is with some relief, therefore, that finally I see some signs of hope on the horizon. A new inspection framework from Ofsted is proposing to evaluate ‘behaviour and attitudes’ separately amongst pupils. School inspectors will have to answer the key question – is the school environment ‘safe, calm and positive’? Hallelujah! At last!
One might have thought that the need to answer this question would have been apparent back in 1992 when Ofsted was set up. It was not. Our slow-learning inspection service and education department has, for years, been addicted to measuring a school’s adherence to politically correct nostrums rather than to classroom realities. I should know – I used to be one of those inspectors and was once ‘marked down’ on an Ofsted test paper for not displaying enough appreciation of gender diversity.
Ofsted’s stance has too often been to ignore the low-level disorder that undermines learning and drains a teacher’s will to continue in the profession. Inspectors have not been required to focus on the bullying, sometimes subtle, and disrespect that is a root cause of so much unhappiness and stress for both pupils and teachers.
What has mattered, instead, has been how committed a school is to what is seen as more important – issues of sexism, gender identity, racism, equality, diversity, anti-imperialism, so-called British Values, and so on. If a school can demonstrate its compliance to such politically correct ideologies a blind eye might be turned to the downside disorder that is generated by our ‘child-centred’ philosophy of education.
Not only is the new inspection framework proposing to incorporate a specific judgment on low-level disruption, it is also proposing to reduce the over-concentration on examination grades across a comparatively narrow range of academic subjects.
It will, instead, give much more importance to curriculum breadth. This is, surely, a welcome development. The arts, for example, need to be unshackled from their Cinderella status in state schools; not least because the creative industries, in general, contribute close to £100billion to the UK economy.
Equally important is the educational case. Music, drama, dance, the visual arts, design and so on can enrich a child’s learning, confidence, personal wellbeing and future life enormously. For many young people, much the same can be said of sport and physical activity – the antidote, surely, to smartphone and tablet dependency.
The proposed new inspection framework is, therefore, to be welcomed. It would be foolish, though, to imagine that inadequacies in the inspection process will disappear. There is, moreover, a very real danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Examination results may be open to manipulation and playing the system by so-called ‘off-rolling’ – excluding pupils who are likely to fail – but in context they remain an important measure of school performance that Ofsted must not downplay.