A few years ago, a number of myths emerged in school inspections. These myths included things such as ‘inspectors expect a certain style of teaching’, ‘inspectors want to see detailed lesson plans’ and so on. These myths did not just appear out of nowhere. Some inspectors asked to see these things during inspections. Some of these things were praised in inspection reports. Former inspectors who acted as consultants encouraged schools to do these things. Books and guidance documents were produced which included the various things that needed to be done to tick the boxes. In a high-stakes accountability model, any nugget that might improve an inspection outcome was grasped. Even if Ofsted never officially said they wanted these things, there were cases where it was so widely assumed to be the done thing that it might as well have been official guidance.
And, credit where it’s due, Ofsted did something about this. Revisions were made to inspection handbooks. Regular guidance to inspectors provided more clarity. Reports were checked more carefully to ensure myths were not being propagated. Social media was used to respond quickly to cases where myths seemed to be being demanded in schools. And, perhaps most usefully of all, Ofsted produced a ‘Myths’ document for schools that stated very clearly what the common inspection myths were. That these were myths was a surprise to a great many schools, and, no doubt, a number of inspectors. But the document was needed: the ideas were so engrained in the system that passive action was not sufficient: it required an active denunciation of the most common inspection myths.
I would argue that exactly the same is now needed for Initial Teacher Education.
Much the same situation exists. Accountability has become more stringent for ITE providers, and Ofsted’s role has become all the more important as more training is being provider by a wide variety of providers Organisations that support teacher training have provided guidance documents on inspection, and there are lots of rumours – often based on anecdotal experience of inspection – surrounding what inspectors want to see. We thus have, for example, ended up with a situation where a large majority of providers grade trainees using Ofsted criteria. The Teachers’ Standards are often broken down into ‘level descriptions’ tied to the Ofsted judgements of quality of teaching. Various figures bounce around concerning what proportion of trainees need to be judged to be at a particular grade in order for a provider to be judged Outstanding. We hear things like “the provision is Outstanding because 50% of trainees are graded Outstanding” and so on. I have had various providers pop up in my messages in the last few days referring to inspectors who have encouraged this kind of link. Even if an inspector has not actively asked for this link to be made, the fact that it is accepted by inspectors without challenge only reinforces the situation. Ofsted’s own handbook for ITE Inspections contains all sorts of grey areas which have allowed these myths to thrive, and the DfE is not at all helpful in terms of the kinds of data it expects providers to give about their trainees.
In the final analysis, the people who most lose out from this situation are the trainees themselves. Teacher training has in many cases been reduced to a tick-box exercise against a set of provider-invented criteria where the main purpose of those criteria is to satisfy Ofsted. I have heard countless cries from mentors, tutors, lecturers and so on, all saying that the only reason they grade trainees in this way is because Ofsted require it. We know that retention is as important as recruitment. We know that the current training experience for teachers is too narrow and not sufficiently well joined up over the first few years of teaching. We simply cannot afford to allow fears about inspection to shape the experience of new teachers.
So I would like to see, as a first step, Ofsted producing a ‘Myths’ document for ITE inspection, as they have for Schools and Early Years. The task of identifying myths and how those myths arose is likely to be an important step forward in how we hold our providers of teacher training to account.