Sarah Belding: Be careful. You’re a man who makes people afraid, and that’s dangerous. 

The Stranger: It’s what people know about themselves inside that makes ’em afraid.

High Plains Drifter

This week, as I digested Bomb Evacuation Procedures; witnessed and tried to support another colleagues Ofsted struggles; contemplated the lack of funding in mainstream and the lack of funding in Specialist (I run a school that provides both); dealt with a serious child protection issue; watched a dragon hatch from a golden egg (Love Reception!); walked the corridors of my fantastic school; prepared my Ofsted file; spoke at #PrimaryRocks17 and appreciated the support of a governor, I realised that schools are changing irreversibly.

Brian Lightman got it absolutely right last week when he said:

“Where schools miss targets headteachers frequently lose their jobs. At present, even though Ofsted has begun some welcome changes, the fact remains that floor standards, performance tables and coasting schools criteria continue to drive behaviour.  This was an explicit government intention.”

It is now etched on the eyes of so many leaders. A desperate, “What if?” stare. A sweaty, ‘I’m not good enough… am I?’ stammer. I feel it and I have no real reason to. I have 13 years of successful headship experience in a wide range of schools behind me. I know that despite the many challenges my school is a wonderful place to be… and yet, I am up earlier because I do not sleep as well. I am less certain and I am quick to think that I can no longer trust anyone. I am amazed at the way in which school leadership is becoming responsible for creating a horrid, results driven, culture that only gathers momentum and seems impenetrable in the face of the weakest of resistance. I am suddenly the worst type of leader – I am uncertain.

But maybe there is a light in this macabre atmosphere; maybe the demon that seemed to be at the heart of transforming schools from their inadequate dens of weak leftist progressiveness could in fact be the catalyst for positive change within this spiral of narrow government doctrine. The rallying cry of the profession and yes;

Ofsted… I mean you.

It was this statement from Amanda Speilman that got me thinking:

“Are you measuring what you intend? Are you measuring what you think you’re measuring? And is it in ways that are efficient, useful and constructive?”

Another beacon of hope in these times is Sean Harford

Last week at Primary Rocks I went to listen to Sean. I knew what to expect but to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, helped contextualise the message once again. I was not comfortable throughout because I was about to do my first ever public talk in the next session (I rudely left five minutes before the end to prepare) and my mind kept drifting off to what I was going to say… but Sean delivered. He is like the mysterious stranger with no name in High Plains Drifter. A man on a mission to right past wrongs but deep down we fear him as much as we want him to clear up the town.

Everyone secretly loves a righteous whipping. 

We see many who say they are ‘doing it for the teachers’ are in fact bully’s who have lost the heart of what we do… but not Mr Harford. Here we see a true champion for education. A visionary who knows the fine lines and treads a careful step. But, there is one fatal flaw in the Ofsted blueprint; one brittle imperfection – people are subjective and there is no simple way to make an inspection fair. I have a few ideas to make it better though:

  • Every Inspection Requires Improvement. I have never been in a school that does not need to improve. There is no such thing and it is at the heart of what we do. If there was no judgement but RI then the focus would be more on the actions required than the grading given. And, bugger Right Move. Parents would have to visit schools and understand what a good school feels like rather than pay over the odds for houses where an Ofsted Outstanding in 2008 adds £20,000 to the price tag.

I believe this one change would mean that Ofsted could focus on the issues and not make subjective judgements that create a static bubble around a school. Who is to say a school is good or outstanding? Who has the ability to make consistent judgements that have such weight around them? Having been the head of both a good and an outstanding school I know that the context is far too important to sweep under the carpet the league table rests upon. I know that the industry of those four judgements need to be taken apart and Ofsted becomes something different to what it is now. A beacon for review and change.