Ignore Ofsted, says Social Mobility Commissioner

Headteachers should ignore Ofsted and ‘put on blinders’ over their advice, the chairman of the Social Mobility Commission has said.

Social mobility czar Katharine Birbalsingh told Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) officials that she did not believe Ofsted was “necessarily, as an idea, a force for good “.

“Too many of us, rightly, as leaders are constantly worried about what Ofsted is asking. And you have to try to put on the blinders and ignore it and do what’s right for your kids and do what’s right for your school,” she said.

Ms Birbalsingh said chiefs should “fight” for what they think is best for their schools.

“Because otherwise, it’s not very inspiring to say to the staff: ‘We do what we do because we go from ‘good’ to ‘exceptional’, or ‘We do what we do because that is what Ofsted wants,” she added.

“You have to believe in what you’re doing, you have to believe that you’re doing it for your kids to be successful,” she said.

Ms Birbalsingh added that she believed under current Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman inspection was better than it had ever been.

She said teachers should not assume they could draw knowledge from students rather than teaching them the subject directly, as this would benefit middle-class students.

“A more bourgeois child can go home and sit at the table with his parents and they will talk about the politics of the day, read the books that are on the shelves; mom and dad could pull out the newspaper. They go to museums on weekends and they go to the Maldives on vacation and so on – and they get knowledge from everywhere.

“But the most disadvantaged child doesn’t,” Ms Birbalsingh said.

She added that students from poorer backgrounds who had not received explicit instruction would see their middle-class peers answer questions and become demotivated.

“What (the child) doesn’t think at that point is, ‘Well, I must be from a different socio-economic background, that’s why I couldn’t answer.’ What he thinks is, ‘Gosh, I’m an idiot.’ And then he starts poking Dave and poking John and keeps misbehaving,” she said.

“And then in the end this boy doesn’t succeed, and why he didn’t succeed has nothing to do with him. It has to do with his teacher not teaching him, because he or she felt uncomfortable with the idea, because so often we are told that it is some kind of cheating as opposed to teaching.

Ms Birbalsingh said that in a ‘more difficult school’ she would ‘strongly recommend’ quiet hallways as hallways could be ‘horrible places where children are bullied, there is a lot of screaming’.

She added that her school, Michaela Community School in Brent, where she is founder and principal, has worked “very hard with families to encourage them not to give them smartphones… and if we really want to make things fairer , and we want our disadvantaged children to be socially mobile, the best thing you can do for them is to prevent them from having a smartphone”.

Ms Birbalsingh said some Year 7 and Year 8 students in Michaela had no phones at all while Year 11 students handed in theirs to school for safekeeping ahead of their exams.

Asked about services that could be used for a broader, system-level response to social mobility, she said, “It’s really important to think about what we’re doing personally.

“It’s very easy to point fingers somewhere else all the time and say ‘the cause is out there’… What we always have to do is look within and think, ‘Well, what? am I doing? What do I have within my reach to change?

Ms Birbalsingh said in schools “there is too much talk about things that work” and the commission was collecting evidence on this.

But she added: “When you pay attention to all the little things, the big things just happen.”

Ms Birbalsingh said leaders must be “brave” and willing to be unloved, adding they must avoid sentimentality.

She said: ‘Don’t be hurt if the parents are mad at you or mean the people on social media – whoever is mad at you. You have to believe in children.

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