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The Value of Inspection?

The Problem is Getting Better

On 26th April 1986 at 01:23, during an experimental safety test, reactor four of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a calamitous power increase. This caused explosions that distributed large quantities of radioactivity into the atmosphere. 2 days later the Russian 9 o’clock news presented a 20-second announcement,

There has been an accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One of the nuclear reactors was damaged. The effects of the accident are being remedied. Assistance has been provided for any affected people. An investigative commission has been set up.

Over the following week, even when Swedish and other European radiation detectors began spiking, the Kremlin refused to offer any detail other than, ‘the problem is getting better but unfortunately it is not over yet’.

It's a Fix Up

I make everybody fix up like Ofsted, from I Call The Shots, Wiley.

Why, when you've perpetrated the biggest domestic nuclear incident in history would you mislead, misinform or withhold vital information from your neighbours? And why do some schools, hospitals, businesses and individuals go to extreme lengths to avoid being seen to fail? Here's a premiss:

If the system you work in is predicated on a model of motivation where success is rewarded and failure punished then you will, naturally, want to avoid failure. And if, heaven forbid, you do fail you might be tempted to shift the blame or mitigate the seriousness of the event so you avoid any penalty.

But when the authorities discover that people are not only failing but lying about it, then the rules will be tightened. Inspection will become more rigorous and unannounced; performance standards will be ratcheted up and more severe punishment dished out for those who fail and are found out. The drive to succeed may cause better temporary performance but this kind of system is founded on fear and avoidance of blame rather than purpose, autonomy and mastery - the three factors that comprise genuine human motivation.

Healthy Regulation; Meaningful Inspection

Swiftly following the Chernobyl disaster the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) drafted The Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident. Any signatory to the treaty agrees that if a nuclear accident occurs within its territory, that could realistically affect another state, it will promptly inform the IAEA and places likely to be affected. As of 2017, North Korea and the Holy See are among a handful of states yet to engage with the treaty.

So, how is the UK nuclear industry regulated and what can the UK education system learn from it?

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) independently inspects and regulates the safety and security of the UK's 37 nuclear sites. It is accountable to the public, the industry and government and takes a collaborative approach to maintaining and improving safety. It inspects and then works with those it's inspected to influence and enforce within a culture of continuous improvement.

Worst case scenarios in the nuclear industry are pretty bad but the ONR aims for an open, positive-error culture where surprises, mistakes and challenges can be addressed quickly and where everyone can become safer, faster. Why hide Sellafield's challenges from Hinkley point? Or Sizewell's learning and successes from Dounreay?

The ONR looks for industry engagement through partnership that includes:

  • independence from government.
  • the operator has absolute responsibility for safety.
  • proportionate regulation and enforcement/sanction.
  • open and honest interactions and communication.
  • collaborative improvement.
  • peer checking.
  • self-assessment.
  • training accreditation.
  • internal oversight.
  • external peer review by a strong independent external regulator.
  • international peer review (not regulation).
  • rigorous internal assurance process.

The Nuclear Industry vs Education

So, does OFSTED look for engagement with schools through partnerships which include:

  • independence from government. NO
  • the school has absolute responsibility for standards. YES
  • proportionate regulation and enforcement/sanction. NO - one size fits all.
  • open and honest interactions and communication. YES
  • collaborative improvement. NO
  • peer checking. YES
  • self-assessment. YES
  • training accreditation. YES
  • internal oversight. YES
  • external peer review by a strong independent external regulator. NO
  • international peer review (not regulation). NO
  • rigorous internal assurance process. NO

So, may I ask you to ponder how your experience of your profession would be different if those tasked with inspecting you were:

  • independent from government?
  • worked with you as coaches, mentors and consultants after they inspected you?
  • were themselves peer-reviewed by another inspection organisation, ONR for example?
  • were peer-reviewed by an international educational body?
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