Inspecting Computing in schools: 6 research questions

There was a time, in the dim and distant past, when the schools inspectorate for England and Wales carried out subject inspections -- and published periodic subject reviews. Amongst the most useful, for those of us whose main concern was information technology, were the reports on ICT -- Information and Communication Technology.

These days, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) does not carry out inspections of Computing as far as I know. (The most recent documents are the report on ICT from 2008 to 2011, which was published in 2013, and Key Stage 3: The wasted years, published in 2015. Both of these are still useful if used judiciously.) The reason given a couple of years ago was a lack of inspectors, and a lack of inspectors who actually understood the subject matter.

In her talk at the Research Ed 2017 conference, Amanda Spielman, Ofsted's Chief Inspector, said she wanted Ofsted to become a research hub. Indeed, Ofsted intends to appoint a new Head of Research. In my opinion, this is all a move in the right direction, although I wonder if this is more a difference of style than substance. The reason I say that is that Ofsted already is a research organisation, if you count its various subject and themed surveys as research (and why wouldn't you?). Perhaps the changes will be in the form of more academic research, with control groups and larger numbers.

Update: Ofsted has announced that Professor Daniel Muijs will be taking on the role of Head of Research.

How would a non-specialist inspector judge something like this?  Photo by Jeffrey Betts . Licence: CC0

How would a non-specialist inspector judge something like this? Photo by Jeffrey Betts. Licence: CC0

While we wait to see, here are some questions that I think would make good research topics. Although these are mainly for Computing, they could be applied to other subjects.

  • Are subject inspections necessary, or just an extra form of stress and overwork?
  • Does practice tend to improve after a subject inspection? That is, do subject leaders and schools actually bother to address concerns raised if, say, a grade of 'Outstanding' has been awarded?
  • Does it matter if a subject inspector is not an expert in that subject? I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, like many 'old hands' I am pretty sure I could walk into a classroom of a subject I have no expertise in, and have a good idea within a few minutes of whether the students were engaged and learning anything. On the other, I have been appalled too many times by inspectors who judge a school's ICT provision to be good because the kids can produce nice-looking documents and PowerPoints.
  • Do the survey reports such as the one for ICT mentioned earlier get used by schools? One thing I used to do in my newsletter was to take the findings and summarise them, and suggest how subscribers might use them in their own schools.

    My suggestions took the form of questions. For example, in the ICT survey mentioned above, one of the findings was:

    "For those students in Key Stage 4 who were not receiving specialist ICT teaching there was no systematic record of their learning in ICT and no means for teachers or pupils to know whether they had gaps in their knowledge."

    So my question to my subscribers or subject leaders would be simply along the lines of, "How far does this apply in your school? Is something that you need to address, or are you optimistic that this particular matter is all in hand?"

    I did the same when I was an ICT Advisor in a local authority, and the Heads of ICT in that borough seemed to find it very useful. But how far was that sort of exercise going on by individual (and overworked) subject leaders?
  • Following on from the last point, what would subject leaders find useful when it comes to subject surveys, or are the surveys sufficient in themselves?
  • And in general, what would subject leaders and teachers for Computing find most useful in the inspection report? That is, should the report include different information or a different amount of information? Should it be set out differently?

In the next issue of my newsletter, Digital Education, I'll be posing the question: "Is education research worth the paper it's written on?" To find out more and to subscribe (it's free), please look at the newsletters page

Then watch Amanda's talk: