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Where have all the Checks and Balances Gone?

April 2nd, 2009

OFSTED inspects schools and Local Education Authorities. When they inspect schools they are interested in standards. When they inspect LEA’s they have a totally different remit. They measure the performance of Local Authorities against nationally set targets or national averages. And standards of conduct in the process? Forget it. They’re just not interested.

Local Education Authorities, knowing what is expected of them – and also what is not expected of them – will do their best to deliver, leaning on teachers and parents, with a strong bias towards inclusion that will colour consultative procedures and affect their decisions on school placements.

But what if inclusion is not all that it is cracked up to be? What if children with special needs are excluded in an inclusive environment and bullied as well? What if parents want to assert their right to have their children educated in a special school? That is what both interests and troubles me.

Shouldn’t OFSTED also try to see whether LEA’s meet those needs, and examine all formal complaints suggesting that they might not be doing so? This would then be part of their official report which they would be obliged to put into the public domain and which would be progressed from there.

That would at least provide some continuing check on their methods where currently there is none. And it would get away from the situation where one part of the system covers up the inadequacies of another part on the basis that ‘I’ll watch your back if you watch mine’, dismissing well grounded complaints as unfounded. That is the culture that actually fosters incompetence, breeds complacency and dumbs down standards. Just who is the system working for?

I would like to quote from;

Leadership by Rudolph Giuliani

‘The New York City school system was never really going to improve until its purpose, its core mission, was made clear. What the system should have been about was educating its million children as well as possible. Instead, it existed to provide jobs for the people who worked in it, and to preserve those jobs regardless of performance. That’s not to say that there weren’t committed professionals at every level within the system. There were, and that’s the shame of it. Those with their hearts in the right place were the ones who suffered most. Until I could get everyone involved to sit together and agree that the system existed to educate children, fixing little bits of it was symbolic at best. Band-aid solutions can do more harm than good. The system needed a new philosophy. It needed to say we’re not a job protection system but a system at its core about children’s enrichment. All rewards and risks must flow from the performance of the children.’

Self regulation clearly does not work in banking and in business generally. It does not work in the corridors of power either. In other words, start putting the checks and balances into the system one by one.

I continue my own quest for a new way of thinking, a new way of doing things and a new vocabulary, this time to suggest a way they could, but currently do not. The play enacts how James Harrington the mandarin from London, David Harding the director of education in Westborough and Gerry Thomson, special needs co-ordinator attempt to implement the policy of inclusion by pressurising the head teacher Margaret Williamson to put their case to parents. She ultimately agrees, but it takes a terrible emotional toll.

In the real world, if she couldn’t fight her corner, the governors should be able to take the issue to the Local Government Ombudsman. At the moment they are not allowed to do so.