A few weeks ago, Ofsted national director Sean Harford surprisingly admitted to me in conversation on Twitter that he agreed with the research I’d highlighted in this article.
My piece argued that teachers have a much smaller impact on student results than the government, Ofsted and wider society would like to admit. The collective research points to 80-85 per cent of attainment being attributed to outside influences, a point which Sean said he could believe.
If this acceptance was transmitted into Ofsted’s inspection policy, though, we should see a much more scattered distribution of Ofsted outcomes. We should see much less of a link between inspection grades and KS2/GCSE results: certainly not the 90 per cent-odd match we currently see.
The fact is there is nearly always another explanation for major differences between schools in terms of exam results. Only last week it was revealed that the differences between northern and southern schools in Progress 8 scores could be mostly attributed to outside factors including ethnicity and first language – and school characteristics, such as the proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals.
Despite all this evidence, Ofsted (and others) perpetuate the myth that the teachers and schools in the North simply aren’t as good as those in London.
We would go a long way to resolving the teacher retention crisis if the whole system were to accept that teachers can do much less for students’ academic progress and attainment than we currently like to imagine. We could then change the way we assess the quality of teachers and teaching to a more realistic and positive one.
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