Ofsted Inspections Failing To Do What They Are Supposed To Do

Having spoken to many teachers about the inspection process I got the firm impression that this was not something that they considered to be a benefit to the school in its drive to improve standards. So it was interesting to come across research which stated that the inspection process did not improve school standards and in some cases actually made it worse.

Some research highlights how the headteachers become more threatened by the inspection the longer they are in post.  While other research identifies that teachers can become ‘inspection fatigued’ or ‘hardened’ to the regime resulting in a loss of effectiveness in the aims of the inspection.

For comprehensive schools the inspection did not improve examination achievement and some research found that there was a negative effect on exam performance due to the inspection.

This very insightful post about being in the process just shows what it is like on the inside:

I recognise the need for accountability in our schools – it’s the price we pay for the autonomy we enjoy, but I’m yet to be convinced there isn’t a better, fairer way to do this. I started writing this post as a real time journal during the inspection – it’s taken me this long to be able to put it together as the experience absolutely floored me. It’s not a helpful place to be. We have reviewed our action plan, taken on board the inspection team’s advice and celebrated their report but would I want to go through the experience again? Has it helped the school recognise anything we weren’t already aware of? Will it ultimately benefit the school community in any way? I have to say my answer is no.

So if the inspection process is indeed looking to make improvements in standards in education, it is not doing a very good job of it. A principle of solution focused work is ‘stop doing what doesn’t work’ and in this case it may be better to look at something else which will help improve standards.

Liberal Democrats Score 5.5??? Developing scaling questions in politics

It was interesting to see the recent Guardian poll asking the scaling question to rate the government and the political parties out of 10 as this uses a key component of solution focused work. When asked to award the coalition marks out of 10 for its performance so far the total score was 5.1. The Conservatives scored 6.6, the Liberal Democrats scored 5.5 and Labour 4.2.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this confuses people as to its meaning as highlighted by Iain Roberts who says “…but what do the marks out of ten actually mean? … Is that good? Bad? Middling? I’ve no idea”.

The scaling question is one of the simplest, most appealing and accessible tools that have emerged within the practice of the solution-focused approach and people who have never even heard of the solution focused approach use scaling questions. This site gives some interesting posts on the origins of the tool.

While it is a step in the right direction towards a solution focused politics without the rest it is as Iain Roberts points out, meaningless.  The scale used in the Guardian poll is a success scale and the initial question of where are we now is the platform of which we can work with. The actual score that the Liberal Democrats got of 5.5 does not mean anything it is what we do now we have that score than has meaning.

So we have an initial score of 5.5. We should then ask why it is a 5.5 and not a 1 (for example). This elicits what they have done well and what people consider to be strengths. We then know what is working and that we can do more of it. We then ask so what would the Liberal Democrats be doing differently if the score was a 6.5? What would you notice them doing/saying differently at 6.5? This then looks to elicit other specific things which people would consider to be beneficial for them and their lives.

We then work up the scale so we know in specific terms what would be considered success for the Lib Dems. We then have something to come back to when asking them in the future about this success.

It would be nice if a polling company for the Liberal Democrats would do this and see what answers we got. Maybe this would produce different answers? Maybe not? But it would be worth a go and then the process could be adapted to suit the Lib Dems in the pursuit of increasing their score on the basis of specific things which they could do or achieve.

For a more comprehensive explanation of the scaling method have a look here, however, it was designed for work with clients who needed a change in their lives. This site looks at how we can adapt this to work for politics.

The Management of Sex Offenders Leaves People At Risk – time to do something different?

I think it would be hard to find someone who was reviled more than by paedophiles, which leave many with opposing ideas of how we should manage the risk.

So far, the government’s Sex Offender Treatment Programme has been heralded as the key therapeutic intervention in the prevention of repeat offending,  The SOTP is a behavioural program which works with groups of offenders and looks to change offenders’ thoughts and behaviour, yet much of this approach has been shown by those who work on the front line to be at times naïve and irresponsible.

To put it another way. We place some of the most dangerous high risk offenders in a room together and skill them up in how professionals understand sex offending. They form links with each other and swap ideas of how to avoid detection. We then have a policy of dispersal so they are managed by professionals in different areas.

The extent of the naivety of this policy is shown when a group of SOTP graduates were dispersed to different authorities. These authorities were small and so they ended up being a few miles away from each other. They already had the links, the knowledge and brainstormed the best ways to avoid detection. For years this group continued to abuse children right under the noses of the authorities.

It is at times coupled with a penile plesmogaph (a lie detector for a penis) to identify the profile of those at risk from the offender. Those working in the field know that that has meant offenders have masturbated before being tested to reduce arousal to be seen as a lower risk.

The proportion of sexual offenders who are reconvicted of further offending is known to be low.  However, this only means that they have not been caught for offending and not necessarily that they have not reoffended.

A solution focus would start with the end result in mind, which would be that there is no further abuse perpetrated. Any policy or treatment would therefore need to have at the very least a significant reduction in reoffending. However, the actual results for the SOTP are poor with reconviction rate over two years being 2.6 per cent compared to 2.8 per cent for untreated sex offenders; a negligible difference.

It has not escaped everyone that this behavioural focused group work is not working as David Wilson, professor of criminal justice at the University of Central England says these interventions are founded more on political expediency than on solid evidence.

The problem is that people are not talking to those who work with sex offenders who may have good ideas of doing something different and something better. Probation officers themselves have admitted to lacking the skills and training necessary to protect the public from sex offenders making it harder to collect different ideas of what may work.

Canada took a different approach to managing sex offenders in the community by developing schemes aimed at befriending them.  The community works in collaboration with released sex offenders, who are given the chance to become a “core member” of a “circle of support” of volunteers.

The core premise, as it is in solution focused work, is that the community should use the resources it already has. The offender is therefore included in a circle of trust, rather than excluded which would drive him underground – or into the arms of the only people who will want to be his friend – other sex offenders.

This approach reduced re-offending by 70% It was brought to the UK in 2002 and there are currently 63 running across England and Wales. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation who run the projects says of the 35 offenders who have taken part in their circles project so far, only three have been found to have re-offended.

Improving Schools for Pupils and Teachers

Imagine a school where there are drastically fewer discipline referrals, where students develop their own academic strategies for success, where parents welcome the chance to come to school and participate and where teachers and students build a common purpose.

This would contrast significantly to how many schools operate at the moment in the UK. Discipline is a significant problem in schools with many exclusions and suspensions on a daily basis, with 1 in 10 pupils being excluded. Secondary school teachers cite poor pupil discipline and behavioural issues as reasons for job dissatisfaction leaving the profession with concerns about teacher retention.

The application of solution-focused approaches with students and in school settings has grown over the past 10 years and has been applied to a number of behavioral and academic problems. It has shown promise as a useful approach in working with at-risk students in a school setting, specifically helping students reduce the intensity of their negative feelings, manage their conduct problems, and externalizing behavioral problems.

There are many examples of using solution focused techniques in schools and this is an example. A principle of solution finding is the change in the relationship between those who have power and those who do not – in this case the teacher and pupil. By creating a different relationship which can work together on problems it moves the difficulties from conflict to collaboration. An impressive display of this can be seen in the work of Dr Ross Greene who outlines the research and the results on his websites here and here.

While Dr Greene does not call his work solution focused education, this is exactly what it is through his approach in researching and in the practice of changing the relationship and solution finding with the pupils. There are many others who are using solution focused work in schools with some good results showing that there are different approaches which can be taken to get better results for pupils and staff.

Some Evidence for Solution Focused Thinking

The attraction to a solution focused approach is that it is strengths based, collaborative, and relatively simple which produces good results. There is a lot of research on solution focused brief therapy where it originated and I do not intend to do a literature review of this as this can be found elsewhere. A good place to look would be this blog on solution focused change. However, some of the research is important to solution focused politics.

Politics seeks to improve the lives of its citizens and depending on your point of view, the way to achieve this varies. Solution focused politics believes that a collaboration between the government or government officials with its citizens is the best way to produce meaningful change and effective services or government. Successive governments have used a problem focused approach to solving problems by analysing problems first (see here).

However, when looking to make change, solution-focused questions have been shown to be more effective than problem-focused questions. While a problem-focused approach can produce good results, a solution-focused approach increases positive affect, decreases negative affect, increases self-efficacy as well as increases and understanding of the nature of the problem. All of which can make a big difference in the final result of recommending changes in policy.

While the approach was originally used in therapy, 62.5% of people who had received Solution Focused Brief Therapy stated that it was the approach which was most helpful rather than any other aspect of the therapy which they had received. The importance of this is that it shows the approach effective in working with problems and creating meaningful change. Something which can be translated anywhere where change is needed, such as policy. Indeed, some research shows the approach to be better at working with problems than no treatment or the current standard services.

One reason for this is that the approach seeks positive outcomes for most people. This is because when we use solution-talk, people are more likely to talk about change. The more people use solution-talk, the more likely they are to carry out the agrees actions or buy into the final decisions. This makes it the perfect approach to develop collaborative services, collaborative policies and collaborative government and making politics  more than just 11 votes in our lifetime.

Solution Focused Politics makes the news but fails to be recognised

One principle of social focused work is that we are already doing everything we need to be doing to solve the problems we have, we just need to do more of what is working and less of what is not. This principle should be a principle of politics too, but unfortunately it is not.

While it seems to have taken the Guardian a few years to cotton on to the fact that there are wider applications to what is being tried in adult social care, their recent article shows that solution focused politics is happening and is working in many areas.

Their analysis is that “we can’t afford [public services], it is frequently self-defeating and it doesn’t fit the way we live other aspects of our lives” and that “we could end up carrying on with more of the same (just with less money), rather than recognising that it was “more of the same” that got us here in the first place”. A call to do something different.

Their focus is on personal budgets which puts people more in control of the funding that supports the services they require. The results were originally promising but have later found to be better than expected (see the addendum of the SCIE report).  For information on personal budgets see here. However, the Guardian goes on to suggest this could be used to transform public services.

What this article is essentially pointing out though is that solution focused thinking, which resulted in this policy, works. They state “at the heart of this agenda is the notion of people not as passive recipients of pre-purchased services nor or of “consumers” taking their “custom” elsewhere – but of citizens, helping to co-design their own support and their own solutions”. This could be taken out of any solution focused handbook and shows the values of solution focused work (solution focused thinking has been around social care for a while – see previous post).

However, what the article fails to outline the approach and how this led to the policy in the first place. I assume this is because it is not known as solution focused thinking is not big in the political world. The issue is that these seemingly good ideas cannot just be rolled out to other areas as other areas are very different and the good idea then becomes a bad one.

But what can be rolled out is the thinking behind the policy: Treat people as worth doing business with, who have their own strengths, skills, abilities and resources, and that people have their own solutions. This meets people in their model of the world, transforms them from being a passive service user or choosy customer of services to being active service stakeholders, while it starts with the end in mind and focuses on what is working.

This site argues for the use of such thinking being used in other areas of the political process as well as using other solution focused techniques and methods with the stakeholders of the services to create the services they want in the way they want them – as they did in social care and personal budgets. Unfortunately the idea has not reached the mass media so the news becomes personal budgets and not the thinking which created it, which kind of misses the point and the potential for the fundamental change that the article wishes for.

World Cup 2010: What can politics learn from the German team?

The Fifa World Cup 2010 has come and gone and brought many surprises. One minute the South Americans shone and the Europeans were struggling, the next it was an all European World Cup. Germany were the big surprises to many (here or here) and while those who look back will say they knew Germany would be good, this was not predicted before the event. Considering the surprise and their success  (albeit not winners, the last 4 is still a success) it is worth looking at what helped achieve this to see if this can teach us anything about creating success in different areas.

Jurgen Klinsmann became the manager for the German team from 2004 following a disastrous European Championship. While the national German team has had success, many wanted the German team to return to the conservative approach that had brought this historic success. However, he decided to do something different so he quizzed everyone he could and held workshops with German coaches and players.

This showed those people wanted the national team to play a fast-paced game, an attacking and proactive game – not how they had played before or even ready to play. He designed the training programme and then created a curriculum for German football. They needed players who were fitter and so carried out fitness tests every three months, which did not go down well with some clubs as he had to say some clubs were training their players properly and others were not.

Read Jurgen Klinsmann’s words here of what he did. However, what he essentially did was a visioning exercise with the stake holders in the game and created a way to approach national football to achieve it. He used the strengths that were already there in the German game and built on them. The result was a different German team playing good football.

This is essentially a solution focused approach as the visioning exercise created the aims and the strategy then looked at solutions to fulfill those aims. It seems simple and it worked. Contrast this with the English approach of looking for problems in the English team and trying to problem solve them, only to find it does not solve the problem! 2007 Poor coaching, 2009 Poor technique, 2010 No English players in Premier League.

What this essentially shows is that working with people in the field, outlining shared goals, and finding ways to achieve those goals gets better results than looking for problems and then trying to fix them. Imagine a local authority with this approach or your local hospital or school? I am sure they would be much better places for people to go which would benefit those they intended to serve.

Alley-Gates was hailed a ‘Trailblazer’ Initiative but was Really Just Solution Focused Politics

Finding solutions often seems a very simple task, so much so that once found no one quite knows why it wasn’t thought of before. A good example of this has been in Liverpool where the Liberal Democrat Council identified a problem: on average 55% of burglaries with entry occurred through the rear in terraced and detached semi-detached houses. However, in Merseyside this figure was 72%.

Thinking about what solution would improve the situation  resulted in fitting alley-gates, which involves the installation of lockable gates across these rear entry of the properties preventing access to the alley for those without a key. They found that this reduced domestic burglary by 37%.

So why was it that this problem, which had such an easy answer, took so long to find this solution, bearing in mind that these houses have been around for a long time?

Traditional problem focused approaches had resulted in focusing on looking at the problem i.e. burglars, and then solving the problem i.e. finding the burglars and stopping them through police work. A solution focused approach looked at the situation differently. Instead of focusing on the problem they looked at possible solutions of how to restrict the rear access to the properties.  A very simple idea that challenged the conventional problem solving approach. While you may think ‘well it was obvious and had nothing to do with the way you think’, the Home Office were busy defending their way of thinking “although there are good reasons for thinking that alley-gates should reduce burglary, there is as yet little hard evidence that they do”.

Unfortunately for problem focused thinkers and all that wasted tax payers money on crime detection and prevention which had failed to improve the situation, later analysis found that:

  • relative to the change in burglary levels across Merseyside, there was a significant reduction within the alley-gated areas
  • the initiative had not caused geographical displacement of burglary
  • there was evidence of a diffusion of benefit, whereby, burglary not only reduced within the gated areas but also fell by 10% in several 200m buffer zones surrounding them
  • the initiative proved value for money as for every £1 spent there was a saving of £1.86 as a result of burglaries prevented
  • there were positive impacts on perceptions of crime and anti-social behaviour
  • the positive experience of crime and anti-social behaviour have been maintained over a four year period

See here and here

Problem focused thinking wasn’t working and they needed to do something different. A solution to the problem ended up being an incredibly simple one and one which could have been thought of at any time, but wasn’t because the way the problem was thought about didn’t allow for this solution. Our attachment to problem focused thinking is very strong but if we are open to the possibility that there may be other ways of doing things which may be better than what we are doing right now, we are able to make things better. The Liberal Democrats were able to listen to other people with good ideas, they tried something different, and made a real difference to the lives of people in Liverpool. This is now being used in other areas such as here and here.

The Benefit of Solution Finding

Focusing on difficulties is generally quite easy as they are so very obvious when looking at problems/issues and this is equally true of political issues as it is personal ones. This is an interesting post on problem-focused thinking which is worth reading for the difficulties you face when stuck in problem focused thinking. Politically, problem focused thinking often becomes mired in technical details and political problems and often ends up in disagreement on how to even define the problem. Just look at the release of the budget every year to see claims and counter claims of what they consider to be actual figures on any issue from unemployment, inflation, or where resources should be distributed. This situation continues as problem solving, although useful, rarely results in any really fundamental change. A problem is a negative way of representing the issue and it is something to move away from, whereas seeking solutions is something positive and produces things to move towards. Solution finding generates creative thinking, offers hope and encouragement, with the possibility for fundamental change as well as giving people a sense of control.

There are many people already out there who are doing something different and getting good results but the lessons of this good work are not being learnt by those in positions of power as they are stuck in problem focused thinking. Changing our way of thinking is difficult. See this article to see how people will discount anything that does not already fit within their models of understanding and patterns of thinking. Psychologically, it is therefore very hard for people to change their thinking which is seeped in social beliefs about problems and the nature of change. While solution focused thinking does not solve every problem it offers a different way of going about politics which may offer some interesting ways of creating the country we would all like to see.


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