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Stakeholders and schools are end users of inspection assessments and object of evaluation. A preliminary scoping exercise indicated that particularly the Netherlands, England and Northern Ireland have seen recent shifts in education systems towards more polycentric settings that have had implications for their Inspectorates of Education. England has recently introduced a number of reforms that aim to create a self-improving system where schools collaborate in networks to exchange good practices and maximize inter-school professional development.
There are a range of networks in place, such as teaching school alliances, national and local leaders of education who support groups of schools in improving, learning networks which are organized by local authority improvement officers, and other types of collaboration around peer review and improvement. Here we focus on Multi-Academy Trusts, which are the most widespread type of formal networks of schools.
Northern Ireland has also seen a number of reforms aimed at enhancing collaborative arrangements between communities of schools in a geographical area. In the Netherlands, mainstream schools and special schools are, since , required to work in partnerships to provide inclusive education for all children also children with disabilities under 76 new authorities for primary education, and 74 for secondary education.
These networks were centrally formed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science according to their regional proximity, number of pupils, existing informal cooperation between schools, and after consultation with the school boards. Each network of mainstream and special needs schools is now governed by new education authorities who are responsible for ensuring close collaboration between these schools in the provision of care and high-quality education to each pupil. Schools are also governed by a separate school board whose portfolio of schools often does not overlap with the schools in the network for inclusive education, creating two distinct collaborative arrangements for schools.
The systems vary in the extent to which these methods and frameworks are fully developed and implemented. The three systems and inspection models are by no means perfect representations of our conceptual framework, or representative for the types of inspections of networks across Europe, but they are presented here as illustrations of our conceptual framework, allowing us to understand potential challenges and opportunities for other Inspectorates of Education who see their education systems shift towards a more polycentric structure.
The study of the three examples presented here included a documentary analysis and interviews with representatives of inspection agencies e. The descriptions present inspection models that were in place in — The analysis of relevant documents and interviews transcripts was used to provide a description of the methodology, valuing and user involvement in inspections as outlined in the previous section.
Ofsted strategic plans, inspection frameworks, consultation documents that outline proposed changes to inspections, examples of inspection letters to academy chains and local education authorities, the Education Act and the Academies Act , and white papers from national organizations ASCL, NAHT which describe and suggest changes in school inspections.
Roundtable session with national organizations organized by Association of School and College Leaders. Expert meeting organized by Ofsted to discuss changes in the Ofsted framework. Inspection framework and the white paper on risk-based inspections from the Inspectorate of Education, letters from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science about the new Inclusive Education Act, the website about excellent schools, examples of the support plan and websites of several networks for inclusive education.
Coordinator of the Inspectorate of Education responsible for the development of inspection frameworks for networks of inclusive education.
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Their inspections have mostly been predicated on assessing the performance of individual institutions, and the current inspection framework is still largely focused on inspections of individual schools. Recent inspection practices have however seen an increased focus on the evaluation of the support that schools provide to other schools and the support they receive from their governing body as an element of the inspection judgement of the quality of leadership in each school.
As a result, schools can now only be judged to be outstanding if they actively support other schools in their improvement and are an active partner in the network in which they operate. The absence of a standardized framework has however, according to interviewed HMI, led to different conceptualizations of the quality of MATs; one respondent explained how the Department of Education came up with a list of high performing Trusts, which were not considered to be of good quality by Ofsted.
The practice of publishing outcome letters instead of standardized inspection reports was also put in place, according to one HMI, to circumvent the lack of legal power to formerly inspect the functioning of Trusts. As a result, the focused inspections primarily evaluate the functioning of the Trust by aggregating the findings from single school inspections, looking at the collaboration between schools and the support each school has received from the Trust, without a clear set of indicators on how to evaluate network-level outcomes of the Trust and the quality of its centralized services.
Additionally, the Department of Education now employs since Regional Schools Commissioners who make decisions on applications from schools wanting to become academies and organisations wanting to sponsor an academy. They are also responsible for the oversight and monitoring of those academies which are put in special measures by Ofsted or require improvement.
Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities
The inspection of area-learning communities are, as with all modes of school inspection in Northern Ireland, managed by the Education and Training Inspectorate ETI. The framework for area based inspections is similar to that of inspections of single schools in that quality indicators, areas for improvement, etc.
According to an inspector in Brown et al. The network sets specific objectives for each of these topics and these become the organizing point for the self-evaluation of the network and for each organisation within the network, as well as for the area inspection by the ETI.
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Area inspections include a random sample of education providers in the area who are visited within a specific time frame. The ETI asks these providers to send in relevant documents in preparation for the visit, such as student attendance, student performance in external examinations, and the results of previous inspections. The ETI also requests that each organisation complete a self-evaluation report on the strengths and areas in their organisation prior to the inspection taking place.
As Brown et al. Data collection observations, interviews, analysis of examination data, minutes of meetings during the visit would typically include a range of organisations in the area such as the Education and Library Board and the curriculum advisory support service, 7 and stakeholders in these organisations students, parents, teachers, members of the middle and senior management team, and members of Boards of Governors.
Self-evaluation reports of each of these organisations on the topic of the inspection e. When the inspection is complete, each organisation receives its own inspection report, detailing the quality of educational provision and areas for improvement relating to the focus of the inspection in their organisation. There are no formal consequences resulting from an area inspection.
Rather, Brown et al. Respondents from the key stakeholder, the ALC, the Inspectorate but also schools and other providers are overwhelmingly positive about the potential of this approach to inspection. In brief three key themes emerge in interviews. The first is that this type of networking enables and improves collaboration and reduces competition between organisations, facilitating initiatives such as better transition between primary and secondary schools, shared curricula in key areas of literacy and numeracy and joint staff training initiatives.
The second theme is the extent to which this type of evaluation has shifted the emphasis in inspection from accountability to encouraging improvement and in particular to the use of self-evaluation based on first hand evidence to inform both school and network activities. Outcomes: the extent to which each school in the network and the network collaboratively provides adequate support to all pupils and has facilities and structures in place to provide such support. Quality assurance within the network, and its implementation of systematic self-evaluations to assess strengths and weaknesses and implement improvements.
The report provides an assessment and overview of strengths and weaknesses on the inspection framework that education authorities are expected to address. Failing networks are, according to the coordinating inspector, subjected to increased inspection monitoring while a regional coordinator can also be appointed to take over some of the responsibilities of the network authority. The coordinating inspector and the chair of the board of the network talk about a number of issues in the implementation of these new types of inspections. According to both respondents, there is limited alignment between the inspection of individual schools in the network, and the inspection of the network although both frameworks have similar indicators of support of children with learning difficulties.
In both types of inspections, schools are judged on the quality of their support to children. However, inspectors involved in both types of inspections are working in different divisions within the Inspectorate and have little communication about their inspections of schools and the network. The coordinator of the network and the chair of the network board also talk about a mismatch between their own internal structure and the allocation of inspections. Both respondents explain how the network, which is comprised of primary mainstream schools, 6 primary special schools and 9 schools for children with severe disabilities, was split into three smaller and regionally closer subnetworks to streamline the support to children.
These three small subnetworks are the main organizing entities for the provision of inclusive education, whereas the Inspectorate only looks at the functioning of the whole. This mismatch complicates the preparation for external inspections and the use of inspection findings for improvement of the network. We presented three examples of Inspectorates of Education who have developed new models to inspect networks, and in West Belfast, have become part of the network they inspect.
The variety of approaches illustrates how inspections support governments in steering through networks or where governments become one of the actors within a networked education system. The Dutch Inspectorate of Education has for example adapted existing early warning analyses and risk-based inspections of individual schools to the inspection of the new school networks. Specific indicators and data within the two single school, and network models are different, but the overall inspection methodology and involvement of, and reporting to stakeholders is essentially the same. A similar conclusion can be drawn for England where focused inspections of MATs are primarily an aggregate of the outcomes of the inspections of single schools publishing aggregated league tables to rank order MATs , and only the support of the Trust to individual schools captures outcomes on the level of the network.
Northern-Ireland is the only example where inspections of networks seem to move beyond a copy of existing models of single school inspections. The area-based inspections in Northern-Ireland specifically capture network-level outcomes that are informed by a network-level self-evaluation that is implemented and quality assured by the network and their district inspector. The fact that the area-learning communities have a common goal and need to collaborate when trying to meet legislative requirements of offering a minimum of 24—27 subject areas may have offered a clear purpose to move beyond inspections of single schools.
However, in Northern Ireland, the area-based inspections were recently also abolished in favor of single school inspections, suggesting that single school inspections remain the main organizing principle for Inspectorates of Education. The first obstacle seems to lie in the strong legislative positioning of Inspectorates of Education which limits a more flexible approach in evaluating locally relevant issues.
The underlying argument is that inspections need to be transparent and set in legislation to allow them to sanction schools. The fact that frameworks, roles and responsibilities of many inspection systems are prescribed in legislation inhibits the ability of Inspectorates of Education to adapt to a variety of different contexts, particularly when there is a climate of high stakes accountability and strong political scrutiny over who is inspected, on what areas of quality and when. The legislative positioning of inspection systems also implies that accountability of school networks primarily takes into account school partnerships that have a formal and statutory basis where the collaboration and governance of the network of schools is set out in a formal agreement.
Such an agreement and formal basis allows the Inspectorate to know about existing networks and have a clear line of hierarchical authority and governance to hold the network accountable for its performance. Inspection systems seems to be limited in evaluating more fluid and informal types of partnerships that lack a formal authority. Their judicial approach to evaluation and inspection does however not sit well with the need to develop more flexible approaches of connecting stakeholders in the system with a focus on understanding why and how specific solutions work in specific contexts, and how these feed into, or are shaped by, policy on the national level.
Less strict policy frameworks are needed to create high-quality iterative and evidence-based feedback loops that would inform system-wide improvement. Inspection systems are traditionally positioned in hierarchical arrangements where individual organizations are accountable to national government.
Such arrangements include inspections of single schools and other accountability arrangements e. A repositioning of inspection systems as a partner within a network of schools suggests a shift in power balance where schools and inspectors are now equal partners in defining and evaluating, which does not sit well with the notion of providing an objective external assessment of school quality on behalf of central government and for the public good. As Ehren and Perryman submitted explain, Inspectorates of Education generally feel they need to operate as objective outsiders who evaluate school quality for the purpose of the common good; close collaboration with their object of evaluation is often seen as a potential source of bias of the inspection assessment, and standardized and centralized frameworks are put in place to enhance the accuracy and comparability of the judgement while also safeguarding schools against personal preferences of individual school inspectors.
A shift towards horizontal and lateral inspection approaches also implies a greater responsibility of the network to set the agenda for evaluations and have the skills and commitment to evaluate the quality of the collaboration of schools in the network, and the contribution of each partner to network-level outcomes. Partners in the network need to collect information on these newer outcomes and need to develop indicators showing the aggregate results of emergent collaboration.
In many education systems, data e.
Additionally, the network also needs to develop mechanisms to act on such information, e. Our findings also suggest that the introduction of new accountability arrangements for school networks are to some extent introduced on top of existing systems. In the Netherlands there are two separate divisions within the Inspectorate responsible for the single school inspections and inspections of networks who work with two separate frameworks; they share little knowledge about the schools and networks they inspect or the reports they write, and there is little coordination of visits and interventions.
The regions Ofsted works in and those of the RSCs are not coterminous which complicates the coordination of their work. Only Northern Ireland sees a clear link between the inspection of individual organisations and their network through the establishment of a district inspector who acts as a liaison between the schools and the ETI, and ensures that the inspections of single schools and the network are closely connected. Such connection is needed to prevent a top heavy and multi-layered accountability system where schools in networks are potentially confronted with inconsistent and conflicting demands and unclear and ambiguous performance targets.
As Ehren and Hatch have outlined, such systems may have unintended consequences when schools respond defensively or seek out the most expedient or obviously acceptable position, preventing them from learning and trying out new solutions. Finally we ask ourselves whether polycentric inspection models can and should replace single school inspections.
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