Can we have a better debate about school improvement?

Instead of arguing about which shade of toast is best and who burned it, can we please talk about the toaster?

Instead of arguing about which shade of toast is best and who burned it, can we please talk about the toaster?

24 Mar 2024, 5:00

Amanda Spielman once suggested school improvement advisers were more to blame for fear of Ofsted than Ofsted itself. It’s an argument that was repeated last week by Ofsted in front of the Commons Education Select Committee. Underlying these comments are two challenges: one is regarding the climate in which improvement and inspection are being delivered and the other is about the quality of the support and advice schools receive.

I won’t go into Ofsted’s shared responsibility for the climate. Playing the blame game gets us nowhere.  We all have a responsibility to ensure our systems are infused with trust, not dominated by fear.

But I can speak to the second challenge. The Association of Education Advisers (AoEA) has been on an eight-year mission to improve the quality of advice and support that schools receive and also how it is provided.  Right from the start, the AoEA took responsibility, including within our accreditation criteria, for the need to ‘build trust and drive out fear’.

In the dynamic landscape of education, ensuring consistent, ethical, and reliable advice and support for schools and colleges is paramount. Recognizing this imperative, education leaders have embarked on a transformative journey, culminating in the establishment of the AoEA’s ground-breaking international standard for education advisers.

The inception of this initiative can be traced back to a pivotal moment in 2016 when key stakeholders including the DfE, the schools commissioner and Ofsted met in Sanctuary Buildings to address sector-wide concerns. These ranged from variability in the quality of advice to the need for advice to be grounded in both managerial principles and philosophical frameworks.

Out of these deliberations emerged a collective commitment to establish a national quality standard. Seasoned education leaders with a wealth of experience were assembled to spearhead this initiative. Over subsequent years, this dedicated development team meticulously designed, trialled and refined the standard, leading to the formal establishment of the AoEA.

We stand on the precipice of a new era in education

Fast forward to 2024, and the momentum behind the AoEA national standard has only intensified. A recent meeting of national and international representative organisations in London showed a groundswell of support for integrating this accredited standard into the education system. Unanimous backing emphasised the credibility and efficacy of our approach.

What sets the AoEA standard apart is its emphasis on sustainability and impact. The extensive experience of the AoEA development team in piloting and implementing various education initiatives has imbued them with a profound understanding of the pitfalls of transient models. Their commitment to proactive support and development, as opposed to reactive intervention, underscores this ethos.

Moreover, the AoEA standard represents a departure from previous systems by prioritising individual expertise and adaptability over rigid formulae. Unlike past accreditation models that focused narrowly on specific practices, the AoEA standard encourages advisers and school and college leaders to draw from a diverse array of approaches and philosophies. This flexibility enables advisers and school leaders to tailor their support to the unique needs and challenges of each setting.

Central to the success of the AoEA standard is its emphasis on fostering a community of practice among accredited advisers. By harnessing the collective wisdom and experience of its members, the AoEA ensures best practices are shared, refined and disseminated across the educational landscape. The extensive repository of case studies we have compiled is testament to the tangible impact of this collaborative approach.

Our work has attracted widespread recognition domestically and internationally. Invitations to present before key government officials across the UK and elsewhere underline the global relevance of this work.

We stand on the precipice of a new era in education. The AoEA international standard holds the promise of redefining school improvement for this new era.

It is right that we should be reviewing inspection for this new phase of educational leadership and management. But reviewing inspection without reviewing improvement practices is like reviewing how we judge toast without any thought to how we make best use of the toaster.

That way lie the blame game and endless disagreements about what good education looks like. Schools, their staff and their pupils deserve better.

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  1. Nice piece of advertising for your organisation.

    I have been through a lot of Ofsted inspections and post Ofsted inspections. I have never once (although I accept others have) experienced stress caused by an Ofsted inspector.

    However, I absolutely HAVE experienced stress caused by members of SLT who dream up all the ideas of how to demonstrate random accountability measures which have been suggested by good people such as yourself. These are not measures which Ofsted ask for, in fact every inspector I have ever met us happy to see what we want to give them, they don’t ask for these things or expect particular things. Ofsted are even on record multiple times saying they don’t expect case studies, but people such as yourself still suggest it so that teachers can add it to their stress and workload.

    Marking policies, data drop policies, homework policies, behaviour policies and their follow ups, are all dreamed up by people such as yourself.

    I accept that there are many flaws with Ofsted and inspection. However, you make all of them magnified and worse to the detriment of the profession which you claim to be trying to support.

  2. True. Some school improvement partners (SIPs) have been generating fear of OFSTED inspectors and inspections for a long time. It is an industry within education that is unregulated. I have worked with some outstsnding school improvement psrtners, who have been worth their weight in gold and one very poor one. One particular SIP I dealt with was also the CEO of the partnership my school blonged to. This was a huge conflict of interest. The advice from this particular SIP was poor and had allowed the school to spiral into a complete mess prior to my arrival. This particular SIP carried out learning walks and we did not receive formal written feedback. It was a complete joke

    • Yes, I’ve had SLT demand ridiculous, useless data taking many weekends to prepare, pretending it’s needed for Ofsted e.g. marking of SEN gapped handouts where the student has written 6 words needs a paragraph in green explaining how this aligns with the Assessment Objectives, then a paragraph in red explaining how they should now proceed to improve. This is then entered on SIMS, individual ILPs and lesson planning. The Entry level student has no idea what any of this means and no-ones ever looks at the data. Ofsted have published documents on their website saying they don’t want staff/pupils to waste their time in this way, but when I shared one of these to staff I was asked by SLT to retract it – I didn’t, it’s bizarre that SLT don’t want staff to read Ofsted advice. Strangely, the Head saying don’t listen to Ofsted, soon resigned to become an Ofsted inspector!