Well, not quite like being at church today, but to be led in worship by young people from Trinity School in Bexley, and then preached at and re-invigorated by Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell (+ Chelmsford) came close. In between those two lovely experiences came the Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, sharing her thoughts on the role of church schools and the dangers of radicalization. As I have said before, I exist to be radicalized so I am not altogether certain that I am the right person to talk about this.
I am at the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership Annual Conference. It’s pretty posh here, in the etc Venue at 200 Aldersgate, just by the Museum of London. I have had some concerns about CEFEL in general. It comes across a bit as “academic excellence with ethos attached” and both Amanda Spielman and Bishop Stephen took a good pop at that perception, I was glad to see. I hope that both speeches will be reported fully and the transcripts made available. In the meantime, I will try and summarise what we learnt this morning.
Amanda Spielman first. She began by emphasising the importance of strong networks, in that they had the potential to maximise opportunity for children, OFSTYED’s primary concern. She spoke really well and managed to fit how and what she said into a framework we could all relate to well. She sees system diversity as a strength, increasing localism and leading to a strong self-improving school system. She said that where they see real long-lasting improvements in OFSTED is not in schools led by “superheads” (thank goodness) but where teams in schools and collaboration between schools is most effective. CofE schools have an inbuilt network but one that was not always used well. She hoped that CEFEL would be able to break down silos within church schools; CofE schools are a significant imprint in English and Welsh education, and we need to find ways of making that imprint more effective than it is currently. She wanted to affirm what we are doing, and that there can’t be a tradeoff between ethos and outcomes. She knew that in CofE schools that OFSTED had good evidence that schools were not neglecting either, but that there was a constant danger that ethos was betrayed by an over-focus on narrowly defined outcomes. This echoed much of what was in her first annual report. She worried that schools were not teaching anything but English and maths in Y6; that KS3 was reduced to two years and that some children were discouraged from doing the full range of EBacc subjects. Exam performance are a reflection of learning, not the sum of it; tests exist in the service of the curriculum, not the other way around. Psalm 119 encourages us to teach knowledge and sound judgment – and this was a point really well made. She said that it matters more than ever that we have an ethical basis to our curriculum.
School leaders needed to embody the the values of our schools, demonstrating those leadership capabilities that were marked by integrity; it was incumbent upon us to instill deep knowledge of all types.
She then moved into the section of her speech that dealt with radicalism, and you can read that in today’s papers. Her plea for a muscular liberalism was characterised by having no truck with closed minds; by refusing to allow the most conservative representatives of faiths to have the greatest impact; and to give way to the loudest voices is not a hallmark of liberalism, but rather of cowardice. OFSTED would back heads and leadership teams that took action on behalf of their children in defence of commonly held values.
Finally, she spoke of her disappointment that the churches have not supported proposed legislation to allow OFSTED to inspect out of school provision, chiefly because of the issue of Sunday Schools. She felt that this refusal to engage meant that extremist (and principally Muslim) schools would not be subject to scrutiny.
I was just tickled by the thought of HM Chief Inspector of Schools quoting the Psalms…
That’s it for now. Stephen Cottrell can wait until my battery is recharged….