#PauseOfsted: NEU backs headteacher-led 'quiet revolution'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The National Education Union (NEU) has put its support behind a headteacher-led grassroots campaign to disrupt Ofsted’s school inspection programme.

Last week, the Headteachers’ Roundtable group formally requested that all school-based employees resign as Ofsted additional inspectors with immediate effect.

The #PauseOfsted campaign has been termed a “quiet revolution” after it was put forward at the group’s 2020 summit on Friday (February 7).

Stephen Tierney – chairman of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and recently retired CEO of Christ the King, St Cuthbert’s and St Mary’s Catholic Academies in the North West – opened the summit by making a request that colleagues who work as inspectors “pause” their involvement.

In response, the NEU’s Leadership Council has pledged its support and the union is now advising its members not to work for Ofsted as additional inspectors either.

Seven out of 10 inspectors are estimated to be practising professionals working in schools. As such, a concerted campaign to ensure that no school-based employees involve themselves in inspection could have a notable impact on Ofsted’s capacity to carry out school visits.

Writing two days after the summit, Ros McMullen, a founding member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and executive principal of Midland Academies Trust, said: “To be clear, we have not asked anyone to resign, nor have we asked anyone to make a public statement or self-identify as making themselves unavailable (although some may wish to do so). We have merely called for school leaders to make a moral and private decision to pause their involvement in inspecting schools for the common good. As Stephen made very clear in his speech, this is a ‘quiet revolution’, not a noisy protest.” (McMullen, 2020)

Writing in the education press last week, Mr Tierney said that headteachers are concerned about the impact of high-stakes accountability on teacher retention as well as the “systemic disadvantage” faced by schools working in challenging circumstances. He is also worried that the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) will lead to a “one-size-fits-all Ofsted curriculum” (Tierney, 2020).

He added: “Without doubt, the school system needs a regulator. It’s a question of being realistic about what it can and can’t do, and clear about what it should and shouldn’t.”

The NEU says it wants to see “fundamental reform” of Ofsted. Joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “The NEU supports ethical leadership. We call upon our members who are additional inspectors to stop working for Ofsted. It is time to take back our pride and professionalism. It is time for an independent inspectorate which is trustworthy and trusted by teachers and leaders.”

Ms McMullen said there were three problems with Ofsted in its current form – the fact that inspection is based on judgements, which are inconsistent and variable; the impact of the high-stakes system; and the risk that the EIF will create a “checklist” curriculum.

She added: “The high-stakes nature of an Ofsted judgement creates worry and fear which negatively impacts workload, stifles innovation and destabilises school leadership and school improvement.

“As a group, we are not ideologically opposed to inspection (although some who align with us may be); we believe strongly in the need for a regulator and for accountability, but right here and right now the impact of the current inspection system is harmful – it needs to take a breather.”


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