Diary of a headteacher: Ofsted: Signs of change?

Written by: Headteacher diarist | Published:
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High-stakes inspection and accountability have long plagued our system, but having just experienced Ofsted, our headteacher diarist is happy to see signs of change

The level of responsibility that weighs upon the shoulders of headteachers is significant.

Most people in education know and accept this, but until you have had the experience of actually running a school, you never really know just how it feels.

Spinning all of the plates that are essential to the school running successfully is an incredibly challenging aspect of the job.

For headteachers who choose to work in schools that are in difficult circumstances, or areas of high social and economic deprivation, their roles are even more complex.

I know many colleagues who prefer to work in these types of schools because they feel like they can make a bigger difference to the lives of their students. But for headteachers it can be a very risky career move.

Job security for heads isn’t great at the best of times and when things don’t go to plan for a school, the head’s head is often the first on the block (comparisons with the world of football management are not far off the mark).

We should be encouraging our best heads to lead these schools, as this is where strong and inspirational leadership is most needed in our system. But sadly far too often I see talented leaders fall by the wayside following a drop in results or a poor Ofsted grading (again, the football analogy holds true).

Taking on a school with declining results, a falling roll, financial difficulties or in special measures could be career suicide for talented leaders. Why take such a risk and put your career on the line?

Questions such as this shouldn’t really come into our minds, but the high-stakes, high accountability culture that schools in England work within has resulted in a real paucity of leaders who are prepared to take this plunge. Indeed, it has led to a shortage of those even willing to make the transition to become headteachers in the first place.

Are we going to see this culture change anytime soon? The signs are there but it is going to take more than a couple of myth-busting Ofsted blogs for things to change. As school leaders we readily accept the responsibility that comes with headship and we are duty-bound to ensure our schools provide our students with a great educational experience.

But we are working in unprecedented times of educational reform and we are painfully underfunded; there needs to be some appreciation of this through the frameworks in which we are held to account.

However, I do see some light at the end of the tunnel. Sean Harford, the national director of Ofsted has been doing his best on Twitter to visibly demonstrate the way in which Ofsted is changing.

There have been the useful myth-busting posts, but more recently I’ve seen tweets from him asking senior leaders how they plan to manage teacher workload issues throughout the year.

My initial thoughts were that our inspection regime is the most likely source of workload issues for teachers and that Ofsted themselves have the most to answer for in this regard.

However, having experienced an Ofsted inspection in the second week of this academic year I am pleased to say that the inspection team was consistent with the messages Ofsted has been sending out recently and the staff questionnaire specifically asked teachers how senior leaders were seeking to reduce their workload.

I found the inspection to be as rigorous and thorough as one would expect, but at the same time it was developmental, fair and dare I say it, collegiate.

I was genuinely impressed with the inspectors and my senior leadership team and I all said that it was some of the best CPD we have been involved in!

While I appreciate that not everyone will have received the same experience during inspections over the last few years, this did give me confidence that we are beginning to move in the right direction...

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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