Students and teachers alike know the lie behind their schools’ “Ofsted lessons”, says Isreal Genius, who wants to implement peer inspections
As the focus on grades increases and school budgets decrease, we have all experienced the phenomenon of schools shifting their focus from learning to passing.
In this instance, I’m not talking about GCSEs or A-levels, however, but Ofsted.
It’s not uncommon for school policy to change in order to optimise Ofsted rankings rather than improve the lives of the students. The focus on grades can encourage schools to abandon students who need help, in order to get better league table places. And as we all know, lessons delivered during “Ofsted week” are completely unrepresentative of the status quo.
There are dozens of articles exploring the faults of Ofsted so I’m not going to go into them here. My purpose, rather, is to propose a solution: young inspectors.
The best people to judge schools are surely those who experience the education system on a daily basis, and young people are well placed to gather the information Ofsted is neglecting – and may even be desperate to collect.
Adult inspectors have difficulty judging how the average student genuinely feels about their school, and students and staff alike often view Ofsted as “the enemy”. Having young people on the inspection team would help students feel comfortable enough to be honest about their school.
The best people to judge schools are surely those who experience the education system on a daily basis
Furthermore they would be able to see what works heuristically, rather than using an easy-to-manipulate checklist. Young people are almost immune to the charade of “Ofsted lessons” and immediately see through such obviously orchestrated drama performances and Orwellian newspeak lesson objectives. This would allow them to get to grips with the genuine nature of the school, a more frank descriptor of the challenges faced by the everyday student.
In terms of how to implement a system like this, we would need to group schools by geographical area. Each team should ideally be made up of one pupil from each school to ensure fairness and reduce bias, as the team would then have diverse backgrounds and experience.
The young inspectors would visit each school for a few days, joining existing students in lessons (ideally in their own year group) and at break, lunch and any free periods for frank and honest conversations. The qualitative data could be supplemented with wider surveys for quantitative data.
These different methods of engagement will shed a new light on the experience of students at the school and thus improve the extent to which Ofsted ratings communicate wellbeing and student satisfaction.
After an inspection, the young people could even work with the school or local authority to try and make improvements. With the brutal separation of many schools from local authorities, the new inspectors would need statutory powers.
This is to avoid situations like the one in my constituency, where the borough council, the charity Healthwatch and I were ignored when we tried to access school mental health policies.
Southend Youth Council originally wanted to set up a similar system, but after conversations with borough council staff and councillors we discovered how little control the borough council (and by extension the youth council) has over academy chains. It means that youth inspectors under current rules would only be allowed in at the whim of the headteachers of each academy. This would give the system an innate weakness, as inspectors giving a negative review may not be allowed in on subsequent occasions.
After learning this, we thought it best to focus our resources on a similar but much more achievable goal – we are going to be publishing student wellbeing and pupil opinion reports for each school.
I am fully aware of the radical nature of my young inspectors proposal, and the intricate difficulties of creating such a system. However, a statutory organisation run regionally by young people for young people is the only way to bring such an idea into fruition.
Isreal Genius is a member of Youth Parliament for Southend-on-Sea