Ofsted – Removing the Label

For years the infamous apt chant of Milwall FC was, ‘no one likes us and we don’t care’.  The club and the fans wore their infamy as a badge of honour.  Their inverted snobbery was used to create an ‘us and them’, very British scenario as a motivational tool to take on the richer more traditional clubs.  When I played for Worcester RFC, one of our coaches wanted us to dress down and come to matches in our working ‘gear’.  The message was we were working men: farmers, butchers, plumbers.  What the opposition made of my fashionable PE teacher ensemble of odd socks, lost property and embarrassingly short shorts was probably not the intimidation required that the coach was trying to build into the British psyche of the underdog visiting the more traditional clubs such as Moseley RFC.  However, the onset of professionalism, the wonderful financial backing of Worcester businessman Cecil Duckworth and the arrival of three New Zealand stars meant in two seasons we went from underdog to favourite, expecting and expected to win.  This was a new pressure with the opposition viewing us as the paid privileged few.  For some in the team, this was an easy pressure.  Like peacocks to the fore, they puffed out their chests and enjoyed the spotlight.   For the rest of us, this was difficult and I often found myself in the bar apologising for a recruitment policy that had garnered the best players from the nearest clubs, with predictable envy at our new found status.

Sport epitomises life and school leaders try to motivate in any way possible.  I therefore amused myself when utilising a chance discussion with the nearby private school groundsman who was bemoaning the recent onset of seagulls, which were ruining his first XI pitch and scaring the spectators.  Childishly and predictably, I continued our litter cleaning campaign with the assembly message that our seagulls were departing and pooping on a private school child – ‘O dear, how sad’.  The school remained clean and I believe the message was slightly changed!

There are times when badge wearing is an excellent message.  If it is good enough for the late great John Noakes, Blue Peter presenter, and the amazing astronaut Tim Peake who wears his Blue Peter gold badge with pride, it is good enough for me.  It always slightly surprises me, the pride students feel when wearing sporting or house colours or the acknowledgement of worthwhile campaigns they are supporting such as the white ribbon campaign.  Badges can and do provide an identity, a sense of belonging.

However, just as Worcester Rugby Club progressed from the North Midlands leagues to Premier league professionalism, there are times when inverted snobbery and labelling are extremely unhelpful.  Ofsted judgements on schools are particularly damaging and totally unhelpful.  An outstanding school would be as happy or happier with a glowing report rather than the label ‘outstanding’.  The impact of Ofsted is restricted as school leaders scramble to get the best judgement, thereby negating the messages of the report.  In 2010 my school was judged outstanding, we weren’t.  In 2013 we were judged good and we were definitely outstanding.  An inexperienced lead inspector did not have the confidence to go with what she was privately telling us, as the data was ‘complex’.  We continue to live with this judgement and the impact of the inspection was sadly negligible as we were disappointed with our label.  By not judging lessons, forthright conversations can and do occur, without the stigma of labelling a teacher as inadequate.  This means a less threatening, more open and rigorous culture with more lesson observations. The same could occur with schools and removing the overall judgement grade would ‘free’ inspection teams and school leaders.  For schools, proper collaboration and a lack of fear of the disengaged student arrivals would then ensue.  My prediction would be that this simple removal of a grade would stop the sink school phenomenon with the rest of us seagulls pooping on the unfortunates or using our grade as a motivational tool as we survey with envy the fortunate few.