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* MYTH BUSTING NOTE:

Early Years settings need to have a registered manager and this is not the case for maintained schools which are not regulated in the same way and would have their nursery seen under a section 5 inspection with the rest of the school. This only happened because the academy had another site away from the main site and it was originally registered independently from the main academy. 

I thought long and hard over this blog. I ready did. I felt that I owed it to some people at Ofsted not to blog this but the more I thought about it the more I knew I had to document my recent experience ‘for’ the people at Ofsted and selfishly for ‘ME’. I will not try in any way to sensationalise this – easier said than done. I feel that there is a real willingness within Ofsted to get the inspection process into a groove where it complements and improves our education system. I feel that I see this in the new handbook and I hear it loud and clear from the likes of @HarfordSean and the many (still here) Ofsted inspectors I happen to know via twitter and work. So, I can imagine that there are many ‘Ofsted’ people who feel that they could really do without bloggers like me adding to the general perceived anti-Ofsted agenda. But I have had a recent experience that has left me feeling a number of things – Baffled, hurt, annoyed, grateful, numb and full of questions.

I had a ‘no notice’ inspection on the 3rd of July at a satellite nursery the academy runs.  It was not inspected under Section 5 but as a regulated setting… though an inspection with ‘outcomes’ is all the same to me. It FELT very much like any Ofsted I had before. I have been through 11 Ofsted Inspections and this would be my fourth ‘in charge’ (so to speak) but it was my very first ‘no notice’ inspection. There is a whole new world of confusion in ‘no notice’ – especially when you run sites away from each other. Do I come over? Do I send an SLT member over? Why does the inspector not want to see me or the team leader until 12:15? Why ‘no notice’ – what have we done?

The first thing I did was ignore what I was told and sent my team leader over to the site. This put them at ease and they were a vital part of the link so I felt justified in doing this. You see… We had been waiting for Ofsted and though we were in the heady mix of the final weeks of the school year we were prepared and we knew we had a shout at an ‘outstanding’ grade.

Happy that my brilliant staff were all there I did nothing else but wait for 12:15 to meet the inspector.

I arrived and all was going well. Me and the team leader are told that things are clearly in the ‘good’ and well into the ‘outstanding in key areas. Hurrah… and then the Inspector asked me a question?

“The current manager is XXXX?

“Yes” I now got that feeling that something bad was about to happen…

“You never told Ofsted that you had changed managers and we have YYYY down as the manager of this setting therefore I am afraid that this will be an immediate RI.”

This conversation took less than 20 seconds. The whole inspection changed in those moments. A rather long and awkward silence followed…

Hang on? The manager had been at this site for over 2 years… I wasn’t here then? Neither was the team leader? There must be some confusion? We are a massive academy with over 120 staff and we move them around all the time. You said the manager is at ‘least good’ and she has all the qualifications needed? She is line managed by an outstanding team leader and a National Leader of Education? This is no amateur backstreet nursery set up… RI? For that? RI because someone never wrote to Ofsted 2 years ago to say, “Oh, by the way we have swapped the 2 managers of our Nurseries over…” RI?

I was far calmer than that – honest!

My first question was a rather rude, “Are you HMI trained?” But, this was not about a rogue inspector. She knew her job and she was just following the LAW of Ofsted. She was right! After frantic phoning to my business manager who trawled the files looking for any evidence of informing Ofsted of this change it became clear we had not told them. We told them about me. They knew I was the ‘new’ head. So, at the end of the day there was nothing more we could do. What was horrible is ALL talk of ‘outstanding’ evaporated in that instance. You are only as ‘bad’ as your worse grade… so overall we would be judged RI. If I am honest I feel that an ‘all out’ outstanding would have been a rather rosy outcome but there was no doubt where the outstanding features were in ‘our’ eyes..

I then had to tell my governors. Oh, you know this outstanding head you employed a year ago? Well… my first Ofsted has dragged us all into an RI. I was by this stage utterly knackered from a combination of factors:

  • First year at a school in which any number of dramatic things you’d like to mentioned had happened…
  • End of term shows to smile and be happy at…
  • Knowing that it takes 3 years before you have the majority support for what you are trying to achieve and despite knowing that I could not be blamed for the RI I did know that everyone would expect me to ‘sort it out’
  • A massive build about to start…
  • Teacher’s suddenly leaving and staffing to sort out…

But I became consumed by this judgement. I tried to control it but I ate, slept (badly) and drank it.  I spoke to many different people at Ofsted who all made it clear that they couldn’t change the judgement but were just taking details. I gave those details many times. My Business Manager eventually took over and slowly I felt some optimism. But the End of Term came and went and still no news. Then on the Monday whilst in the rather charming Beg Meil in Brittany as the sun shone I got a call from my office that Ofsted had sent through the report. No indication as to what or why… I just thought they had finally written it and it would say RI. I asked my PA to open it and read it out to me. I ordered a whiskey from the bar.

“Good.”

“What? Everything?”

“All goods…”

I then had a ‘little’ emotional moment. You see, this stuff matters to me. As a head teacher I live and breath this stuff. I can not just take things and move on without feeling an emotion. It hit me I had been on holiday for 24 hrs and had hardly talked to my family because I was in this ‘place’. I let this ‘tiny’ judgement consume me because I felt it was not about teaching and learning but about administration. I could see why the rule was there because nurseries are not all run by educational establishments with their robust safeguarding, CPD and line management in place. There had to be a system for regulating ALL settings. I understood this. In fact I suddenly got all positive and started to feel that Ofsted learns and evolves through these incidents. On one level there is the ‘Beast’ that is the immovable sense of Ofsted but on another I got the feeling through this that Ofsted can and will evolve in the right circumstances. But, It’s a Thin Line between saying ‘yes’ and saying ‘no’, doing the ‘right thing’ and ‘giving in to pressure’. Ofsted has to be ‘seen’ as fair and we know that this is not possible.

I then asked, “What did it say we had to do to be ‘outstanding’ ?” I then choked on my whiskey.

Really?

Some children got distracted by other children because activities are too close together?

If we can sort that out we’d be outstanding? They are in a HUT?

and…

Link better with other nurseries?

But we only have one child and they go to a Steiner nursery and they refuse to return our letters?

 Monsieur, Puis-je avoir une bouteille de whisky…  

“La ligne bien mince!”… A thin line indeed.

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