(Guns' N' Roses)
UPDATED 28/12/13 - see the end of the article for some good news for teachers....
One of the first things I learned in my Chartered Institute of Marketing Advanced Certificate in Marketing (apart from the need to use acronyms for long course names) is that communication is tricky. Every message is packaged for different types of media, scrambled in transmission, and then interpreted differently by the people who eventually hear it.
The lessons I learned were to stick to a few key messages, reinforce them wherever possible and encourage feedback for clarification.
If you needed evidence that this is vital, then just look at the problems caused by communication between teachers, schools and OFSTED over inspections!
Here's the issue. In 2012 OFSTED's head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, made a speech to the Royal Society of Arts. He said.
'Ofsted should be wary of trying to prescribe a particular style of teaching, whether it be a three part lesson; an insistence that there should be a balance between teacher led activities and independent learning, or that the lesson should start with aims and objectives with a plenary at the end. We should be wary of too much prescription.
But at the coalface, a year and a half since Sir Michael's speech, I've read the following in the past few days about what is actually happening in schools.
1. Tweeted by author Michael Rosen:
'My final judgement feedback form noted that I should be doing the following ...Build in more independent learning time; Make [my] plenary longer....'
'..In the third workshop someone interrupted to say that the Ofsted inspector down the hall was telling people the exact opposite of my message. Upon investigation I discovered that this inspector was telling people the following....Teacher talk must be minimised [and] students must be learning independently for significant proportions of every lesson'
So, what's the solution? How do we get teachers to do what they're best at in every lesson? From communication theory there are three solutions...
1. Clarify the message. When you read Ofsted's recent framework for school inspection, you can see where confusion might appear. Paragraph 54 lists what 'inspectors will consider... when evaluating the quality of teaching in a school' but there's not a lot there and certainly nothing as clear as Sir Michael's speech. It's easy to see how this paragraph can be misinterpreted. Why not include the speech in this document?
2. Create clear direct communication channels to the target audience. It's noticeable that there isn't much direct communication between OFSTED and teachers. Ofsted's communications (try following @ofstednews on Twitter for example) are very much focused on the 'corporate' side of the organisation - reports, news stories, speeches and so on aimed at the general public. The Ofsted website has an easily-accessible 'School Inspections; a guide for parents' at the front of its website, but nothing specifically for teachers. I can't remember getting any written or emailed communications as a teacher from OFSTED.
3. Regularly check understanding and re-communicate. OFSTED tend to swoop on schools, inspect and move on. Feedback is about the results of the inspection, not the process. Are schools asked if they really understand the process? Are teachers involved in improving the communications process?
These three changes might just make it easier for teachers, schools - and stop some of the negative impression that inspections can cause!
And the wider message for us is of course clear. As school marketers, are our messages simple and consistent? Are we taking every opportunity to talk directly to our customers and stakeholders? And are we checking that we've been heard and understood?
UPDATE 28/12/13: OFSTED did clarify their handbook and issued new guidance on inspection at the end of 2013. This makes it much clearer that Sir Michael's speech is to be acted on.
However, the fact that the link I've given is to a blog post written by a blogger working on a tip from another blogger* based on part of a document uploaded to a government website on 23rd December (the middle of the school holidays) and due to take effect on 1st January just reinforces the messages of the article above. - that teachers are not seen as stakeholders by OFSTED. There should have been clear communication directly to teachers during term time, with time for clarification before the guidance came into effect.
Until OFSTED understand that teachers (and schools) are partners in school improvement and that they need accurate and sensible two-way communication we're not going to get the world-class education system we're all looking for!
(*take a bow @oldandrewuk and @clerktogovernor)