Once, during a fit of early headteacher pique, I banned all staff email to try to stop the perceived critical email, those which were upsetting and the incessant copied in emails. This foolish decision probably tells you where I was mentally, a battered headteacher reading everything external or internal as critical. Often, in the dark months, you literally cannot ‘see the wood for the trees’ and you simply have to trust your school processes and believe that skilled, caring professionals remarkably get it right most of the time, whatever the circumstances. Telling professional people not to do something does not work and I probably, rightly, endured sardonic comments, though a few less copied in emails was positive.
In a previous blog, I joyfully quoted Kenneth Williams, a humorous national treasure, he of Carry On fame, and his self-righteous screech, “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” Amanda Spielman’s (Ofsted Chief Inspector) naïve criticism of headteacher bloggers, I and my loyal 200 are not the group she is taking aim at, as ‘blockers of progress’ and those headteachers who comment via blogging as ‘problems’, creating a culture of fear, a myth about the Ofsted process. This strikes me as being her self-righteous ‘infamy’ moment. This baffling comment will, I believe, go down like Gove’s ‘enemies of promise,’ as naïve and sadly very damning, indicating where she and Ofsted are in perceiving comments, an incorrect perception that all comments from the profession are unwelcome, critical and therefore wrong. You teach, we judge, could be the message that is taken from her speech. To blame those who run schools for scaremongering about inspection is simplistic, unhelpful and unlikely to stop the bloggers’ delight at poking at the beast that is Ofsted.
Blogging is cathartic, undertaken by me as correspondence with my Dad and a monthly way of trying to articulate feelings, take the temperature of what has become like the England football manager’s position, the impossible job. Some of the most prominent, experienced Headteacher bloggers, John Tomsett, Geoff Barton, Tom Sherrington et al, have all articulated concerns, offered different perspectives and useful experiences of leading schools over a number of years. They are generous in their resources and positive in their message that this is a fabulous, wonderful profession. I have learnt a lot from their blogs, great free CPD. They are followed by many in the profession and I like the moral, ethical leadership they espouse, not easy in the dark days. At times they pass comment on Ofsted, some of which is rightly critical. I am glad Spielman reads their constructive thoughts and would suggest rather than taking ‘cheap shots’ at the beleaguered headteacher, she look at the impact Ofsted can and does have on struggling schools, their headteachers, teacher recruitment and teacher retention. The whole school impact this judgement has, needs to be seriously evaluated and respected headteachers need to be listened to. We all want our schools and the educational profession to be successful.
Rather like the England football team, changing the football manager every four years after the latest dismal tournament failure, does not seem to be the right way to manage when it is not the leader but the football/educational system that is seriously flawed. Ofsted is part of this system and Spielman cannot have the ‘penny and the bun’ as my Dad loved to say, she wants to be part of the system and yet judge the system. She is canny enough to know all comments will be reported and seized upon to try to sensationalise and potentially cause division. I would argue that she knew her speech would be highlighted as taking aim at headteacher bloggers and is a distraction from sensible evaluation of the value of Ofsted, something as an accountant she should understand.
The shame of this comment is that there had been green shoots of empathy with Sean Harford, sensible use of social media and myth busting papers. A new, friendlier listening Ofsted was the image that was being projected with the move from inspectors judging lessons being an excellent example of positive, sensible change. In our 2010 ‘outstanding’ Ofsted (yes, we celebrated with banners and letterhead), Pat, our outstanding teacher was given a lesson observation of thirty minutes and a judgement of satisfactory. Cruelly, some teacher wag defined her as ‘Sat Pat’ because this clearly was not how anyone saw her, hence the irony of this joke. Sadly, this external judgement massively affected this teacher and the teaching confidence of this caring, fabulous professional is still eroded. This is a microcosm of what Ofsted does to the teachers, to the profession, to schools. Judgements, sound bites matter and are seized upon by those who are trying so hard.
A damning judgement of a school can still erode confidence, with parents and teachers living the report. A poor report can, does mean staff avoid applying to the school. Similarly, prospective parents do not apply and good parents leave. This affects funding, confidence and results and is a spiral that could easily be changed by a developmental report with no overall judgement. ‘Inadequate’ has always been an inadequate, dreadful phrase that ‘shocks’ and damns and severely damages a whole community for decades and ends careers.
Spielman is early in her difficult job and would appear to be worried about perceived criticism, loss of overall control. My advice would be to trust in your processes, your inspection. If you do not, then change the process, rather than hit out at easy targets such as 50 something headteachers who continue to strive to make something of a flawed, broken, underfunded and inadequate system. They obviously care and creating an ‘us and them’ system is not desirable or necessary.