Ofsted, universities, and the baseball umpire story

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

A recent THE carried a story about Ofsted and university ITT courses.  It runs, ...

Universities have suffered under Ofsted teacher training inspections since Michael Gove unveiled plans to increase school-based training, in what some claim is a politicised inspection regime that will cost institutions places.  Ofsted, led by chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw, began inspections under a new framework for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) last autumn, after the education secretary had announced a major expansion of School Direct, the school-led training path, in July 2012.

Under the new system, providers are rated 1 (outstanding), 2 (good), 3 (requires improvement) or 4 (inadequate).  Only providers classed as outstanding are guaranteed to keep their core allocation of student numbers for 2013-14 and 2014-15.  Figures supplied to Times Higher Education by Ofsted show that the proportion of inspections at higher education institutions gaining an “outstanding” rating has fallen from 30 per cent under the old framework to 13 per cent under the new one.  However, the number of school-centred and employment-based providers rated “outstanding” has risen from 24 per cent under the old framework to 32 per cent under the new.

One vice-chancellor, who did not wish to be named, said there were “concerns in many HEIs about the politicisation of Ofsted and whether its historic independence as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate is being sustained”.  An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “We entirely refute any suggestion that our inspection judgements are driven by the government’s School Direct policy or any other hidden agenda.  We report on what we find.”

The last six words (my emphasis) are complete bollocks, of course; an insult to the intelligence.  It brings to mind a story as told by the great Denis Lawton to (Baroness to be) Pauline Perry, then chief HMI for teacher training, as she explained to a UCET committee around 1981/2 how HMI were going to intervene in university courses for the first time [Note 1].  I was priviledged to be there.  It was one of the moments of my university life: when the stiletto of truth was skilfully slipped into the ribs of the avatar of power – although to no lasting effect, it has to be said.

Lawton told the story about three baseball umpires in a Brooklyn bar, discussing how they make calls, and the perennial problem of deciding whether something is a 'Ball' or a 'Strike'.

The rookie  of the three said, "It’s really a question of what happens. I calls ‘em as they are."

The second, an umpire of some considerable experience, said, "Nah!  You don’t understand; it’s a question of perception: "I calls ‘em as I sees 'em."

The third, a long-in-the tooth character on the point of retirement, who had seen most things, many times, said.  "None of you’s understands.  Some of 'em is balls, some of 'em is strikes, but they ain't nothin' 'till I calls 'em."

Just so.


1.  HMI had long had the power to inspect teacher training courses, but there was also a long-standing Concordat with universities that this would never apply to them.  Perry (whom I liked and respected enormously), encouraged by Oliver Letwin, and her notional boss, Education Secretary, Keith Joseph (worth a blog or three just to himself) drove a tank through all that, and we are where we are today as a result.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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