After their oral evidence to the Education Select Committee, Sir Michael Wilshaw and his colleague, Matthew Coffey, agreed to provide details of the specialist qualifications of HMI, and their response can be downloaded here.
Two of their points merit further attention.
“As was clarified during the session, Ofsted has not provided detailed judgements on the quality of teaching of individual subjects as part of routine school inspection for over 10 years.
“The focus of inspections, and therefore the required skill set of inspectors, is to recognise quality learning and teaching in schools, regardless of subject. Our highly qualified and trained inspectors can make these judgements, irrespective of subject specialism.”
This reply reflects the lack of practical experience of inspection of both of the witnesses.
Sir Michael may believe he can inspect, say, an A level physics lesson on the back of his history degree, but, having been put in a similar situation, I don’t, and neither, I’m pretty sure, would most A level physics teachers. If inspectors are to be respected by teachers, they need to understand what they are inspecting. But perhaps that doesn’t matter any more either.
The second was the statement that Ofsted has “lead national advisers in every subject,” and that details of all of HMI’s specialisms are contained in pen portraits, downloadable here.
Perhaps they thought no-one would trouble to check. Of current national curriculum subjects, Ofsted lists national advisers in maths, history and geography only. It lists a national adviser for “ICT” – not the new subject of computer science – and no national advisers for science, English, languages or indeed any other subject. To say that there are national advisers for all subjects when only one core subject has one is either sheer carelessness or a deliberate insult. Not to have a national adviser for science, when so few reports even mention it, is a very serious omission, to put it politely.
The reply also said that specialist inspectors carried out subject surveys when necessary. They have not been felt necessary for some considerable time, and Ofsted has come very close to completing the process, begun by Labour, of systematically devaluing subjects at the expense of management. This needs to be reversed, and quickly. An afterthought in the reply, that Ofsted is considering forming groups of inspectors with expertise in subjects, would be a good start, as it would prevent any individual inspector from dominating the agenda. Sir Michael’s successor should come from a strong subject base.