A world without Estyn?

14 Jul

If you’ve read my post following my trip to look at how education is delivered in the Isle of Man you will see that I was very taken by the fact that they do not have an inspectorate on the island. I saw first hand how not having that fear factor built into their system has allowed a far more child-centred approach to education that has been driven by real collaboration. Things that in Wales, under the Estyn regime, have been increasingly hard to achieve.

The lack of inspectorate is also a key plank in the success of the Finish education system. Their view is that accountability is what is left when you take away responsibility. It is very much the position of that high achieving system that in getting rid of their inspectorate they allowed schools to develop their own self-evaluation models, placing responsibility at the heart of school improvement. Their results since that decision speak volumes for its effectiveness.

Having seen the way some systems operate, and the success they have, it is perhaps fair to ask do we really need Estyn?  While this may be a bold question the reality is that without such bodies in other nations they have organically grown accountability within schools.  The Isle of Man example shows that without an inspectorae schools can operate to a high standard with trust and cooperation at the heart of their education agenda.  Not having the direct intervention of Estyn will not mean there is not still a focus on accountability but simply that it is driven by the profession rather than seen as something imposed on it as a punishment.

The current inspection culture has led to high levels of stress induced illnesses within the profession; a system based on suspicion and competition and without any tangible evidence that it improves standards. Scrapping it may be an uncomfortable step for many but it could very well be the right thing to do.

It is important however that we are realistic about the existing situation in Wales. A dependency culture has emerged whereby schools are configured to work towards Estyn inspections. A large part of what schools do on a day-to-day basis is focused on succeeding in the eyes of Estyn. This is of course part of the problem in creating data driven, rather than child-centric, learning.  With this in mind there would need to be a step change approach, starting with a move towards a light touch approach to inspections, in order to build capacity in schools so that they are encouraged to put in place their own accountability measures.  In the long-term, when the growth in self-regulation and collective internal and external responsibility has fully developed, there is no reason why we shouldn’t look seriously to a system without an inspectorate.

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