We haven't reported on an Amanda Spielman speech before. But that's probably because she's the relatively new Chief Inspector at the school watchdog, OFSTED. But new or not, she's just published the annual OFSTED report with plenty of fanfare and a well-timed speech.
This was a relatively lengthy speech at nearly 5,000 words. But we've heard worse. If the new Chief Inspector had asked how long should your speech be, then she probably got it right on this occasion. Because this was serious stuff.
And so her language suggested seriousness. In fact her language proved seriously "wonkish". It was as if a junior civil servant had actually written this speech.
For example, problem schools or sink schools are no more. And there's no mention of bog-standard comprehensives. Now we have intractable schools. Yes, intractable.
That includes a group of schools that I would call ‘the intractables’. These are the schools – around 130 of them – that have never been judged good at any point in the last decade.
We applaud the fact that the Chief Inspector has spotted these sorry schools. And we are equally pleased that she wants to do something about the dreadful education that pupils get at these schools. But, intractable? The problem is, it's not a word in common language. It hides things. Because people, doctors and nurses aside, really don't know whether they should be pleased or outraged at an intractable school. perhaps if we were all better educated that might not be such a problem!
We noted other aspects of language in this Amanda Spielman speech. Girls didn't get a mention. But boys were mentioned once, in relation to the Feltham Young offenders centre. How very fitting and quite an association.
However, she did cite pupils more than a dozen times. So that was about right.
She mentioned teachers only four times. Could this be a function of her lack of teaching experience? Surely not.
And heads or headteachers didn't get one mention. But then leaders and also the leadership word were truly everywhere. So, it seems that headteachers are now all leaders. Well, I'm afraid to say that there's typically one heck of a leap to make the leadership grade. And most of us don't get there. Still, it's probably worth an extra £40,000 on the salary.
We also spotted some other delights.
We should celebrate how many schools are now good
Because, of course, every government department speech has to celebrate something nowadays. Then we heard:
I am a believer in the school-led self-improving system.
I sense that this is an alternative to student-centred learning. we used to hear a lot of that.
Then, she told us about provision.
The childcare sector also relies heavily on the market for provision.
Provision is a word that's slid into the educational lexicon very swiftly. But, I really don't know what it's all about. It's probably important. So, I'm sure that whatever needs to be said could really be said in a better, more robust and meaningful way.
Sentence length also became quite long. We spotted:
But, despite the fact that most early years providers are doing well, our recent research into the Reception Year raised some questions about the suitability of the statutory framework under which they operate.
Yes, we reported that the best schools – the ones in which disadvantaged children do best – place a strong emphasis on early reading, on having children sitting properly at a table when learning to write and on developing early number skills.
There's always a danger when language becomes impenetrable. Now this Amanda Spielman speech has a long way to go before it's impenetrable. But, it's only her first annual report. We can but hope that she doesn't continue in this vein.
There's no doubt that the Amanda Spielman speech brims with good visionary content. But there really is a lot of it. Certainly her enthusiasm for sorting out low-performing schools, dodgy faith schools and equally dodgy child social work is laudable. But you have to sense that she's got a tough task ahead of her.
Everything I see in my job, looking at the work of thousands of children’s homes, colleges, apprenticeships providers, schools and nurseries, shows me that isn’t a pipe dream. In fact, the areas I have identified today are some of the last remaining barriers that stand in our way. Tackling them will not be easy. But the prize is great – a country that is both caring and bold, innovative but unified, aspirational and at the same time fair.
Because that job is certainly political. And who will be her political masters during the next five years?
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