Ofsted refuses to release conference slides

A teacher has questioned why Ofsted refuses to release presentation materials about maths teaching that he claims should be publicly available.

The inspectorate’s national lead for mathematics, Jane Jones, presented a session at Cheshire East Council’s
“Better Mathematics” conference
in December.

But when Andrew Smith, a teacher in Birmingham, used the Freedom of Information Act to request her presentation slides, Ofsted refused on the grounds of commercial interest.

Mr Smith argues that any general advice given by HMI to teachers should be available to all, “not just those who pay. We should also be able to scrutinise whether they are giving advice that conflicts with the Ofsted handbook.”

In its response to Mr Smith, Ofsted last week said: “The conferences are hosted by local authorities. Delegates are expected to pay a fee to attend, and are usually either partially or fully subsidised by the authority on a non-profit basis.

“The Information Commissioner’s guidance is clear that the FOI Act is not an intended method for individuals to circumnavigate paying for information.

“Individuals who attended this particular conference are able to obtain the course material via their local authority.”

Schools Week contacted Cheshire East to ask if it would be happy to provide the resources to Mr Smith, or if it would be happy for Ofsted to do so.

However, a spokesman said: “We are not releasing this information for understandable reasons. These courses are still being run at other locations around the country.

“It sounds like a copyright issue to me and as a local authority we might not have paid for that.

“It is up to the local authority whether they release the information, and while these courses are being run we are certainly not releasing it.”

An Ofsted spokesperson confirmed that the Better Mathematics conferences “aim to give headteachers and subject leaders insight into how to improve leadership, teaching and learning in mathematics. They do this through sharing evidence of what works well and providing opportunities for delegates to develop strategies for improvement in their individual schools.”

In 2013, Ofsted was criticised for allowing additional contracted inspectors to sell services to schools. However, Ms Jones is an HMI inspector and therefore cannot sell consultancy services.

Ofsted confirmed it received no remuneration for the event.

Learning of this Mr Smith said: “If this is information is being presented as part of an Ofsted role then it isn’t obvious where the commercial interest arises.”


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  1. Tony Parkin

    File under ‘don’t get me started’ section. Tip of the iceberg stuff. In the good old days there were free/low-cost professional development activities up and down the country, hosted/run by an assortment of agencies, quangos, LAs etc where the great and the good from HMI, subject associations, schools would offer support and professional development alongside the agency/organisation. School leaders, enthusiastic teachers etc were adressed, consulted, kept informed and developed.
    A quick bit of research now will reveal that this has been replaced by events run by a network of fat cat politicians, their families and hangers-on. They charge inordinate sums to heads and teachers by suggesting they can get ‘inside Westminster’ or have a ‘government briefing’. They then call in HMI and what few education advisers that survive and pay them NOTHING to deliver the conference content. And charge an arm and a leg for a typescript. Then laugh all the way to the bank.
    There are a few commercial providers charging fairly-priced events, paying their speakers and allowing sharing of resources. They need an honourable mention, and you can tell which they are by the fees charged, the open approach taken, and the absence of any dubious politicians in the line-up.
    I also think it a little harsh to hammer the LAs desperately tring to make ends meet by still putting on funded events, that have to cover costs.
    Oh, and before I am accused of rose-tinted spectacles, I know a significant number of the old-school events were pretty dire – National Strategies, anyone? No? Thought not.
    But Andrew is quite right to argue that any resources developed at public expense should be made widely available via the internet. Attendees at events are paying the hear and participate in the discussion, network with colleagues, and have time to self-develop. They are NOT purchasing resources, which should be in public ownership, with appropriate copyright control.

  2. Gerald Haigh

    Tony is exactly right in his description of how professional development events used to be run. I’m not up to date on how they’re run now, but I trust his description implicitly, and the general point which he makes in support of Andrew Smith — that resources developed at public expense should, by definition, be widely available — is surely irrefutable.

  3. Tracy Barker

    People have the opportunity too attend these sessions, they just need to pay. INSET run by local authorities has been thus for a while. Anyone has the opportunity therefore to share these resources.

    Anyone who has these resources may share them with anyone they wias, as they can with the information they gather.

    Anyone can therefore compare the advice given with the Ofsted handbook as long as they either attended or know someone who attended.

    Andrew is fairly well known to Schools Week and sometimes contributes to it’s content.

    Maybe while one is looking at Ofsted and their behaviour, Andrew’s ability to use Schools Week as a mouthpiece for his crusade should perhaps be questioned. He asked for the information thinking he might be able to get around paying for attendance at the conference knowing that if refused he would get some mileage out of publishing this piece here.

    I can easily research, review and form my views on what makes for good maths teaching in my classroom. Clearly Ofsted are unable to take a particular stance on teaching style, however they are also able to read the research I am able to read. They can give advice and whether this conflicts with the “handbook” is irrelevant just as Mr Smith’s views are interesting but only a very small part of the picture.

    Don’t get me wrong, conflicts between inspections and handbook need to be sorted. I don’t believe this is an issue unless Ofsted preach at the conference that inspection grades will suffer if classroom teachers do not follow what they believe to be good practice.

    As far as I know they haven’t.

    Is it possible that the commercial interest arises from LEAs. I don’t know but maybe it is possible.

    If you were suggesting that Ms Jones has done something wrong then I hope you will have been in contact with her prior to publication.

    It might also have been better if you had described Mr Smith as “Well known blogger”, rather than simply “teacher”.

    This comment has been moderated.

    • Nick Linford

      Editor’s Note from Laura McInerney – There is no suggestion that Ms Jones has done something wrong. Ofsted’s press office were contacted before the article and aware of the story, with ample time given for response.

      Mr Smith’s FOI request was done publicly via the website in his capacity as a teacher. It was not raised to our attention for the purpose of a story.