I spent a lot of my formative years working in Birmingham schools under the leadership of Professor Tim Brighouse. I met him on three occasions, received two scrawled letters of appreciation, as did my students! I therefore followed his pronouncements assiduously.
He once accused, correctly in my opinion, Chris Woodhead’s Ofsted as being a “reign of terror” and, crucially, believed that real improvement depends upon raising teachers’ confidence and morale rather than confronting them with shortcomings.
It is therefore, perhaps, contradictory that I have now become an Ofsted inspector undergoing an invaluable year’s training inclusive of a bewildering online phonics test and videos encapsulating the myriad of LGBT issues.
Teachers are afraid of Ofsted; a good Ofsted provides relief, a poor Ofsted provides over-zealous scrutiny. What has yet to be proved is this – does Ofsted raise standards?
It is my belief that Ofsted actually hampers school progress as leadership can never evolve because it is constantly on the treadmill of preparing-reacting-recovering from Ofsted. With an Ofsted looming, how can one take risks or create a leadership culture that allows everyone in the community a chance to lead while also accepting that failure may occur?
Not that I would agree with the recent NUT conference where the gist of the message was that there are no bad teachers, just bad managers! This is defensive twaddle that does no-one any good. The seven staffrooms I have worked in recognise the need for observation, scrutiny and accountability – but is Ofsted the tool to judge a school and will it cause and sustain real improvement? Or does it damage a school and a headteacher’s vision? What I have learnt in my training is that:
The Ofsted inspectors’ trainers are generally an impressive, astute group of professionals who want to do a good job, have a wide range of untapped knowledge and expertise that should be harnessed for school improvement. This is a course that I would commend to any serving head.
The inspectors, like all in the profession, are frustrated at the unplanned rate of change. The new Ofsted framework, with another one imminent, is unpopular and the rationale is not one that has been widely accepted or explained. Those experienced inspectors are fed up with Ofsted being used as a political tool.
As a secondary head I am not and should not be used in key stage 1 inspections, nor would I expect key stage 1 heads to be used to inspect secondary schools. Yet this could occur.
As a successful head I would now never accept the challenge of a school in a poor area or one with high free school meals. Ofsted judgements are made on raw data and for the vulnerable areas of society, good is perhaps the best judgement that can occur.
This last damming statement is unacceptable. A school overall judgement has to take into account context, overall progress, value added to students and have a responsibility to the community.
To take Sir Tim’s analogy further, schools and therefore the teachers become the label they are given. We became an Ofsted-validated outstanding school in 2010 but in reality I believe that has only occurred in the last year. Therefore, would it not be better to have Ofsted inspectorate for advising and supporting senior leadership teams; a return to the work of the now displaced HMI who knows their subject, their schools, their “patch”.
If a judgement has to occur, ensure the inspection is longer than the rushed “snapshot” that currently occurs with judgements written on previous years’ data! Make Ofsted accountable for sustainable school improvement and support all schools
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.