We live in a pot noodle society where everything is instantaneous and not always that good for you. School leaders are caught up in this, often frightened to speak out for fear of being labelled, so they stick to the easy, quick solutions.
In education, we have been looking continually for ‘quick fix’, cheap solutions to long term societal problems. Years of austerity and underfunding with the looming threat of Ofsted judgements permanently, insidiously held over you, the Head, your school, your community. Ofsted matters and even as a Head of 16 years’ experience, despite my protestations I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying over and preparing for the future pot noodle one day inspection (see previous blogs: Ofsted – The Million Pound Game, “Coasting, My Arse!” and “Coasting, My Arse!” – Part 2). Inspection is a thriving industry employing thousands with a cottage industry of CPD, some oily snakeskin salesperson advising how to prepare for inspection, data analysis or my personal favourite, surviving Ofsted! Ofsted will not go away and appears to be strengthening its stranglehold over education and education policy. The new inspection regime will undoubtedly see but not ‘require’ self evaluation forms, data captures and a change in inspectors’ terminology, i.e. ‘interleaving’, if not a change in headteacher focus. Outcomes of students will still rightly be a huge school priority and will lead to a school grade that leads to those instantaneous judgements, no matter what ‘tweaks’ Ofsted may make to the framework. Poor outcomes and an inability to show progress will lead to a school grade.
‘Oh, you work in that Ofsted outstanding school’
‘Oh, they are from that inadequate school that is struggling’
were two comments from respected colleagues about prospective applicants for a recent MFL post. These professionals and their schools are given labels, judgements that they have limited ability to affect, judgements, grades that affect their status and job opportunities. Judgements made instantaneously and last permanently. Ofsted is about traditional human judgement and is flawed.
I was an Ofsted inspector, completing 10 inspections personally rated outstanding or good – (see I’m doing the badge wearing bravado) and although I felt that all the inspection teams I worked with cared and were fair, they were massively restrained by inadequate, restrictive inspection criteria and by their personal professional experiences and cultures. I believe to have a team of inspectors with no serving Head is an inconsistent flaw that Ofsted had briefly tried to avoid. A lack of experts eschewed the reports into areas of inspector priority, not school priority. Judgements made were out of inspector comfort, not school development or school context.
The recent decision to continue, for now, with grading schools is an ‘inadequate’ decision, another mixed message for the education systemInspection and their beleaguered leaders. Ofsted is inconsistent and unreliable.
During training, 200 inspectors would assess lessons and would always arrive at four separate grades. Why would the grading of the school be any different? Different teams will grade a school differently. The schools are therefore at the whim of inspector experiences, personal preference and that human trait, personality, if you make a relationship with the lead inspector – not easy when under pressure. I felt it could influence the grade. The respected education think tank, EDSK, as recently as April 2019, highlighted the ‘lack of reliability and validity’ in inspection judgements and that undermines Ofsted’s credibility – ‘Requires Improvement: A new role for Ofsted and school inspections’ – https://www.edsk.org/publications/requires-improvement. If we are serious about reducing exclusions, off-rolling, gaming the system, a narrow curriculum and retaining our leaders, we will trust them and take away the grades. Why would I risk my family and my career to join a school labelled inadequate with potential job insecurity and non-stop Ofsted scrutiny, overseen by an expensive CEO?
At a time when we are struggling to get and retain school leaders, with mental wellbeing of all our staff rightly at the forefront of our thinking, this snapshot traditional judgement that dominates school life is out of sync with what we require. Ofsted, in my opinion, is a major barrier to school progress, risk taking and the new approach that our complex young people desperately need. A more nuanced, braver approach to inspection, a twenty first century approach, is now required. One that builds the educational community not segregates and labels it!