What happens when things go wrong? A video of Adrian Elliott's talk at The Sunday Times Education Festival

Francis Gilbert's picture
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Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 28/06/2011 - 08:07

Thank you Adrian for this excellent speech - and Francis for putting this up. Its calm, clear assessment of what government policy means is much needed - particularly from a practitioner. And must not have been easy to deliver in the context of Wellington.

One of the most interesting points I thought concerns the ill informed media and political elite. Increasingly, this is my own experience. Very good to see it spelled out here.

Helen Flynn's picture
Tue, 28/06/2011 - 11:59

Thanks for including this, Francis. It is one of the issues which I have heard people raise recently, particularly in the light of the duty to cooperate to promote the wellbeing of a child being scrapped for all maintained schools and FE Colleges in the current Education Bill. There is a real chance of children falling through the net and it does raise the rather fundamental question of who has the ultimate responsibility for a child? Without the duty to cooperate (though I am sure that most academies absolutely would cooperate) it is really really rather worrying.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 28/06/2011 - 13:28

Adrian's speech highlights three problems with the free schools and academy conversion policy:

1 Who will provide support for a school suffering a major calamity? If the academy is "stand-alone", then where is the back-up? If the academy is part of a chain, how effective will the chain be if its head office is remote? Will an academy chain have the expertise to help an academy facing a catastrophe?
2 Who will have strategic overview of education provision in a local area?
3 Who will oversee the education and welfare of vulnerable pupils?

Adrian also asks what can be done to raise the level of debate when the public is presented with misleading and inaccurate statements from the Government and biased reporting from some sections of the media. This is where a site like this are valuable - it is a forum where education can be discussed rationally and evidence presented. Other essential sites for readers wanting to cut through the propaganda are FullFact.org and the Channel 4 FactCheck blog.



Helen Flynn's picture
Tue, 28/06/2011 - 18:37

Thanks for this, Janet, though you should have added point 4: fair admissions (though I suppose that might have been implied under point 2!)

To my mind the three things that must be determined locally--at the absolute minimum are: admissions; SEN; and exclusions. Strategically these are critical, and underline the fact that we are all equal citizens with equal entitlements.

Then to make things cost less, it would make sense to have some services provided locally to groups of schools, such as legal services, insurance, payroll services, etc, etc. (As was the remit of the LAs which are currently being taken apart.) Of course, this is what will happen when we get chains of academies, but without local democratic oversight to ensure reasonable spending from the public purse. God knows what is going to happen to procurement--the opportunities for corruption are enormous!

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 17:04

I tried to listen to that, I really did. I just couldn't take it in. I just can't take anything Adrian Elliott says seriously since he wrote this:


Keith Turvey's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 18:30

And what exactly is problematic with what Adrian says Old Andrew? I've been through several Ofsted inspections and know quite a few Ofsted inspectors. I'd generally confer with what Adrian says.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 07:05

Andrew - whether you agreed or disagreed with Adrian's views on Ofsted inspections is irrelevant. Adrian is asking pertinent questions about what could happen when large numbers of schools have become academies. These questions will not go away because you feel you cannot take him seriously. Perhaps you can provide an answer to the questions (I list them in my post above) because I cannot.

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 18:45

The problem with what Adrian says is that it is so far at odds with experience that it makes teachers (i.e. people who teach in schools) laugh out loud and ask "who on earth are these people?"

Keith Turvey's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 21:22

And on what basis do you claim to represent so many teachers' views?

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 21:32

Oh for pity's sake. If you don't believe me go find a teachers' forum on the internet and repeat his claim that schools don't ever hide bad behaviour from OFSTED, and see what the reaction is. I'm guessing derision and disbelief are the most likely responses.

Keith Turvey's picture
Thu, 30/06/2011 - 22:29

Adrian simply examines the likelihood of it taking place. He doesn't actually say it never takes place. He was just illustrating that it's not as widespread a practice as some like yourself might claim in your quest to prove that the whole of the state system is broken.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 08:30

His examination of the likelihood of it happening concludes that it simply couldn't happen and it is naive to believe that it was happening. As one behaviour expert suggested, it is like saying MPs couldn't possibly be fiddling their expenses.

For those of us who have been through a few OFSTEDs it is hilarious that anyone would even try to argue this way. He must know that most teachers reading it would be gobsmacked. With the possible exception of Francis Gilbert's amusing attempts to disown his own writings, it is the clearest, starkest example of the capacity of people on the LSN to just flat-out deny inconvenient truths. Every time Adrian Elliott reappears on here it is just suggests the LSN does not care about the quality of local schools, does not care what actually happens in school, but only has a politically motivated interest in allowing schools freedom to fail with impunity and will listen to anybody who supports that agenda, no matter how little credibility they have.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 09:07

As so often Andrew, you rely on anecdotal evidence which cannot be corroborated to support your view. The alleged views of "Those of us who have been through a few OFSTEDs" do not convince. You need to back up your assertions with evidence and links to that evidence. Adrian Elliott is an ex-head and an ex Ofsted Inspector so I expect he has been through more Ofsted inspections that you say you have.

And you have not addressed Adrian's questions. They are important and should be considered even if you do not accept the previously-stated opinions of the person asking the questions. Trying to sweep these serious concerns aside under an ad-hominem attack does not make the questions any less urgent.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 09:41

Can I just check what your argument is here? Is it that what I, as one individual teacher, have seen with my own eyes is anecdotal and should be ignored? Or are you claiming that everything that any teacher sees is anecdotal and should be ignored?

If your argument is the former, then you can easily find the links that indicate that my experiences are not unusual. If your argument is the latter, then all you are doing is using objectivity as an excuse for ignoring all first hand experience on principle, and while there are often reasons to do that in an academic context, there is no reason on earth that this should apply in a political debate where, ultimately, people do care about their own personal experiences and no politican will ever get a mandate for saying "I don't care what happens to ordinary people, just so long as it is never documented in a sufficently objective and rigourous way".

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 10:11

Andrew, you have misrepresented by dismissal of your evidence. I do not know you so have no way of judging if your anecdotes are true. I do not even know if you are a teacher just as you don't know if I'm really a grandparent.

If, however, I knew you personally then I could be in a better position to tell whether your statements are accurate or not. Similarly, if you were giving evidence to say, a court or tribunal, I could weigh up what you say against what others have to say. If you were speaking to your politician then, of course, s/he should act on what you say unless s/he finds after investigation that you are incorrect.

You back up your claims by telling readers to look for "links" that show your experiences are not unusual. I have no doubt that if I went searching for statements to back-up a particular view then I would find them BUT blog entries are unreliable. They could indeed be true, and many no doubt are, but others are not. The internet is a rich source of "evidence" to uphold or negate particular opinions.

Readers have to judge the reliability of internet information and because the internet is anonymous opinions must be backed up by objective evidence or come from a reliable source (such as the OECD). Otherwise, readers could be misled by blogs which are malicious, untrue or mischievous. I could, for instance, say that when I was a teacher, my pupils were always hard-working, polite and well-behaved. I would be lying, but you wouldn't know it.

And you still haven't answered Adrian's questions.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 10:44

You don't have to tell me that internet resources may not be reliable, it was you that asked for links not me (although the fact you think I was linking to blogs suggest that you haven't actually followed any of my links). Nor do I expect anyone to believe what goes on in schools on my say alone or to look only at the sources I find for them.

I am merely asking you to establish clearly what teachers have to do in order to get you to listen to them about their own experiences and believe them. It is currently looking like it is "say only things that are consistent with the opinions of the OECD".
You do appear to have accepted that a politician might have some right to act on what teachers tell them is happening, however, you are defending Adrian Elliott whose position is that what the education secretary claims to have heard from teachers cannot possibly be true (even in a case where it is trivially easy for anyone to find teachers who will confirm that it is true).

If you want to know what goes on in schools is there not a case for simply asking some teachers? Do you not see problems with identifying a source, no matter how respected and prestigious, as having the power to over-rule people's personal experiences? If the OECD told you that 2+2=5 would you believe them? At what point do we dare listen to ordinary people?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 11:40

Andrew - I am not saying teachers should not be listened to as well you know. I am saying that blogs are unreliable. If I were an Inspector gathering evidence of teachers' perceptions of the what happens in the classrooms then I would speak to teachers personally. I would not rely on blogs because they are unreliable.

And again, you have misrepresented what I said. I did not say that I would accept opinions that are only consistent with those of the OECD. What I said, and I'm surprised I have to point this out, is that when weighing up evidence, particularly on the internet where speakers are unknown, is that one must look at the reliability of the source. And OECD, a highly-respected, trusted and independent organisation trumps the opinion of an unknown blogger. And again, the opinion of an ex-head and an ex-Ofsted inspector carries more weight than that same unknown blogger.

And as for your rhetorical question, "At what point do we dare listen to ordinary people?" The answer is: in letters to MPs, at the ballot box, letters to the media, lobbying, to name a few, and, of course, posting on this site as long as one's opinion is backed up with evidence. Everyone has the right to an opinion - but no-one has the right for that opinion to be accepted as truth unless it is backed up with evidence.

And you still haven't considered Adrian's questions.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 12:46

I'm sorry, but I am at a loss as to what principle of evidence you are actually arguing here. You say blogs are unreliable, yet the only person who has relied on a blogpost as evidence here is you. One moment you are saying you would listen to teachers, the next you are saying that they would actually have to provide evidence that what they say is true for you to believe them.

Can you please state your position clearly, instead of addressing the strawman that anyone is asking you to accept the evidence of some single anonymous blogger. I am still baffled as to what a teacher would have to do to be believed by you and your references to the OECD and bloggers are just confusing matters.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 17:52

I am sorry, Andrew, if my references to sources of reliable evidence are confusing you. Having re-read one of your posts above you stated categorically that "most teachers reading it [Adrian's views on Ofsted] would be gobsmacked". You don't agree with Adrian and you back up your opinion by appealing to "most teachers". Such a statement is hardly QED. I could say the opposite: "most teachers" have little problems with behaviour. You would be quite right in paying no regard to that opinion because that's all it would be: an opinion.

I suggest you re-read my comment. I said if I were an Inspector doing research into teachers' perceptions of classroom behaviour then I would speak to teachers. Note the phrase: "if I were an Inspector". Then I said that I, speaking as myself and not as the hypothetical Inspector, would not rely on assertions from an unknown blogger because I have no way of judging on the reliability of those assertions. I think I have stated the position clearly as you asked.

You said in your first post that you couldn't take Adrian seriously because you disagreed with something he had written earlier. And I replied that this was irrelevant. Adrian raised important points but your prejudice against him has pushed his questions to one side.

If you have answers to Adrian's questions, please provide them.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 18:24

Okay, you appear to be responding to my request that you clarify your argument by simply inventing an argument for me. If I point out somebody is saying absurd things, that is not, in itself, an argument, it is just advice to stop digging.

You now, once more appear to be talking about your unknown blogger. I will ignore this other than to observe that I specifically told you that by going on about this unknown blogger you are addressing a straw man.

Can I ask you again, under what circumstances would you (that's the you who's having this discussion, not the imaginary you who's inspecting a school) believe teachers' accounts of what happens in schools?

I don't think I can make that question clearer.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 11:30

'you are defending Adrian Elliott whose position is that what the education secretary claims to have heard from teachers cannot possibly be true '

Nowhere in my original post on this issue did I say that 'this cannot possibly be true'. There are 20,000 state schools in this country all of which must have been inspected by Ofsted at least 5 times since it was set up. In a hundred thousand inspections all sorts of things may have happened . I asked how likely it was, which is is something entirely different., and pointed out the difficulties and risks involved .

For example,in the link you provided to a TES forum on the issue, when I originally raised it, some one refers to 'LEA advisers' being brought in to team teach with weaker teachers . The clear implication is that the inspectors did not know they were advisers. But if Ofsted had found out this was happening this would have led to a very strong official complaint to the LEA -probably copied to the the political leadership. Any LEA senior officer authorising advisers pretending to be teachers would have put their own career at risk.

Why do this to improve, perhaps, half a dozen lesson out of the 60 or so the inspectors might observe over an inspection at one school out of the dozens that officer might have responsibility for. I am not suggesting it never happened or the. teacher who wrote that is a liar . I don't know. What I am pointing out is the unlikelihood of this being common practice.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 12:26

I'm sorry, but while I accept that you started by asking "how likely", you then went to talk as if it wasn't possible. You contrasted it to what happens "in reality", you talked of "the sheer naivete" of believing it can happen in *a* school, and in the comments you said things "could not be organised" and "I know that I would never have got away with this".

These are not claims that it's a bit rarer than widely thought; these are claims that it couldn't happen and if you now hold the former position rather than the latter then you need to apologise to those whose honesty you have previously cast doubt on.

Keith Turvey's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 13:13

I'd much rather have an apology from you Old Andrew for insinuating that this practice is widespread. This view that you seem to hold suggests that teachers in general are dishonest and only interested in saving their own skin when it comes to facing the challenges that we know some teachers do face in schools where behaviour management has broken down. Your comments cast aspertions on the whole profession based upon your own experience. So don't be surprised if those who have had very different experiences feel the need to defend the profession in general. Bad practice goes on and is inexcusable in all professions/business/industry. That's no reason to bring the whole profession/industry/business down. Adrian has nothing to apologise for.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 13:44

Look, if you want to operate this site as a denialist forum, where people maintain a completely different version of reality to that which teachers live in then that's up to you. There's plenty of places where people can find out about the reality. If Francis Gilbert plays a prominent role in this even though he's written several books that testify to the things you'd like to deny, that's also up to you. But don't be surprised if every so often a teacher pops up full of curiosity about just how dubious a claim has to be before you disown it, and just how ridiculous a person has to become before they stop being a standard bearer for your cause. Do none of you actually want teachers on your side?

Keith Turvey's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 14:41

What's being denied?

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 16:16

What's being denied is the behaviour problem in our schools.

Keith Turvey's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 16:54

I've not read anything on these forums that denies there is a behaviour problem in some schools. I've read stuff that would argue this behaviour problem is not as widespread as some people make out. I've also read stuff which has a tendency to generalise from evidence of poor behaviour to the whole system as if it's endemic throughout the the school system.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 17:34

I love the way you respond to a claim that this is a denialist site by rehashing the same old denialist arguments, i.e.: classroom teachers' experiences, no matter how plentiful, are either untrustworthy or unrepresentative and must be rejected.

Meanwhile, much weaker evidence (i.e. an OFSTED inspector swearing he didn't see anyone hiding anything from him or personal attacks on teachers who speak out) is taken perfectly seriously as long as it fits the denialist agenda.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 18:08

Andrew - I think you are putting words in Keith's mouth. He made the quite reasonable point that poor behaviour in schools is not permeating the whole system all of the time. You respond by making a generalisation: that this is a "denialist site" with a "denialist agenda" (whatever that is). No-one is saying there are no behaviour problems in schools - one can't be a teacher without having to deal with behavioural problems. But this is not what this thread is about. It is about the concerns expressed by Adrian about the consequences of academy conversion. Perhaps you could confine your comments to those concerns.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 18:14

Nobody has said the behaviour problem is permeating the whole system the whole time, so if he had argued against that then he would have been attacking a straw man.

But, of course, he wasn't even that clear; he simply took the opportunity to set out some more vague arguments denialists can use for ignoring teachers.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 18:56

Andrew - the reference to the unknown blogger was my attempt at being polite. The unknown blogger is in fact you. I don't know who you are apart from a name, and that might not even be your own name. I don't know if you are a teacher as you say you are. Neither do you know whether I'm using a false name or a false persona. Therefore, I do not have to accept your opinion and you don't have to accept mine unless, of course, one or both of us backs up what we say with reliable evidence from a trustworthy source. Appealing to "most teachers" won't do.

Andrew Old's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 19:07

So we have:

Straw man 1) That I am asking you to accept what I say simply because I say it.
Straw man 2) That I appealed to "most teachers" as part of an argument, rather than as advice about the level of absurdity that is being reached.

Now, are you going to keep attacking these straw men, or are you actually going to tell us under what circumstances you *would* believe what teachers tell you?

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