My two-day battle with Ofsted


A school judged outstanding but for the data with inspectors refusing to take context or evidence on the ground into account. Our headteacher diarist takes us through their two-day battle with Ofsted.

My key language teacher interviews were interrupted by the dreaded news that Ofsted would arrive the next day and by the essential 40-minute telephone call; Ofsted waits for no-one.

As a trainee inspector, I knew the school was prepared. Yet until 10pm that night the frenzied preparation was a sign of the fear and panic that the inspection process causes. 

The nub of the inspection, all inspections, is data. The inspectors’ immovable hypothesis was that our students arrive broadly average and leave broadly average, therefore we could be judged a broadly average school.

My two-day fight was with an inspection team who would not take into account the context of the school and would not judge the evidence from what they saw. My argument was that the 51 year 11 students placed on the child protection register, by external agencies, was 40 per cent of our year group.

Children such as one who had an addiction to ketamine that has taken three years to wear off and another who was raped by her father in year 9 will not get their C grade in English and will not make expected progress from year 6. The results can come later but they will be alive and are making remarkable progress supported by our outstanding team.

“But your students do not make progress compared to the national average,” was the repeated reply, or “I hear what you are saying but the new framework guidance is...” – it felt like we had a firm of accountants in to inspect us.

Therefore, because the data said so, their hypothesis was that the English department required improvement. “But what about the English results fiasco of 2012?” we asked, when we had 22 students who were downgraded. This was met with another “I hear what you are saying”.

The problem was in the inconsistent observation of lessons – maths results were excellent so therefore good lessons were graded outstanding. Good English lessons were given satisfactory (a 20-minute snapshot!) or the offensive “requires improvement”. This was an unedifying, bruising process with little developmental work – 14 separate lessons were graded as outstanding; there should have been more. At least three were heading to outstanding but the inspector had to leave so felt unable to make a judgement.

The exemplary behaviour of the students was graded outstanding, the best of 160 schools the team had inspected. Yet, because of achievement/data, this became a limiting judgement – teaching and learning could only be, at best, good.

My frustrated rant at the final meeting should be a concern to Sir Michael. You do not take into account a school’s context? Why bother coming to inspect? You could have/did pre-write the inspection report based on 11-month-old data. Take away our child protection students, those who have been abused by adults, and our students make exceptional progress. Do you want heads like me to be inclusive? I could get rid of 10 students, the data would improve along with my career prospects, but not the life chances for those children.

Judge lessons fairly and consistently, not on the results data. Inspectors are clearly restricted by the new framework and kept saying their report would be challenged by the data. My message to the inspectors would be: be brave and allow challenge. Schools such as mine should have the opportunity to be outstanding.

What inspection did to me and my fabulous staff was leave us completely drained. Please do not place unreasonable demands on our school. The idea that you wished to interview 30-plus students with May birth dates, during lunch, caused a great deal of angst and organisation, and then to have two inspectors forget to turn up was unforgivable. Therefore, my judgement of you and the process is “inadequate”. You came in broadly thick and left broadly thick, with our school judged good – outstanding but for the data.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers.


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