Why is it that Ofsted makes so many head teachers go on the immediate defensive? It seems to me that no matter your standing in the Ofsted hierarchy most head teachers or teachers I meet would, if they could, do away with the regulator of schools. Is this wise? For £6 a child are we not looking a gift horse in the mouth? And what do schools want? What is it about Ofsted that raises the hackles of so many in education?
Ofsted have been kind to me. Apart from one crazy moment in which an outstanding became RI in less than 15 minutes based on an administrative error (maybe this is the crux of my concerns?) I have done well, as have my school communities, out of inspections.
I have had no experiences of bullying (though an Ofsted inspector once told me to ‘shut up please’… they joined the 100 club.). I have heard of many awful Ofsted experiences -are these just experiences evolving in to myths multiplied via tactical re-tweets and conference chats or is there real grounding that Ofsted unfairly destroys careers? Of course, every one in education knows what we mean when we talk of Rogue Inspectors… I can literally hear a John Williams score whenever I think of them… Is this what we mean when we say we fear Ofsted? Is it Ofsted we fear or the power it gives individuals?
I think Sean Hartford is one of the best things in education (I am contractually obliged to say this because I am due an Inspection ;))… but Ofsted need to be open about this darker side… and this comes to us in the cult of the Rogue Inspector… they do more damage than the collective good of Ofsted. Can Ofsted ever really shake them out of their system? And what makes an inspector a Rogue? A peeved school leader with a real legitimate issue (I know there’s a complaints procedure – but have you ever been through it? Especially when your world has been levelled around you?) or a Peeved school leader who just does not like what they have heard, even though it is a true reflection of their school?
I have only dealt with rational inspectors who tried hard to understand the schools I worked in and our context. Ofsted helped make my career… getting an outstanding in far from easy circumstances in 2013 gave me a lot of professional space and gravitas… I truly believe my current school (despite very complex data) is by far the best educational establishment I have worked in… far better than any simple four tier grade could ever communicate. Though I now happily dismiss judgements such as outstanding – I would never advertise my school as outstanding and I despair when I see banners outside schools. If, the best you can do to validate to your community the amazing stuff that happens in your school is a 6X4 foot plastic banner then you really need to walk your corridors a little more, talk to your community and feel the real fabric of what your school is. Just listen to it’s heartbeat and face up to the good, the bad and the UGLY… don’t advertise it in a stark 2ft font pretending all is great because WE hit a bloody data target… That judgement is history the moment you read the draft report. Ofsted’s problem is also the thing that makes some school leaders believe it is the greatest thing – it is validation that they are doing a mighty fine job but if we are validating based on set criteria… we also need to know that we can be invalidated based on the same criteria.
If the report criticises safeguarding… racist language, or bullying… personally (as much as I would be shocked and gutted that this was what was seen over those few days in my school) that would be a priority I would deal with the moment those smart suits closed the door and left the dust in the corridors to settle. It would be history far before the report hit the community… if it wasn’t then I can only imagine the issue is far from simple. Therefore, it may have more to do with my community than just my school. I know of no school that willingly promotes shame, failure or underachievement… why would we do that? But someone needs to call us out when this happens… Despite my concerns I still believe it is Ofsted – I just want them to change; to lead the way… Rather than be a simple tool for governments to build policy on. Naive, I know.
So, why does an experienced head who has done well out of Ofsted want them to change radically? I have asked myself this a lot recently. What is my issue? Why do I clash with the very reasonable Mr Hartford? Do I know something about my school and am just scared that when the time comes I’ll be hung up? Am I afraid that due to the laws of probability there will be a Rogue in my next inspection team?
If fewer than 1 in 10 schools are judged less than good; fewer than 2 in 100 are judged inadequate why am I so obsessed with what Ofsted may, or may not, do/say/think?
Running a school is nothing like judging a school… it is the same as teaching a lesson is nothing like observing a lesson. This is a crucial point that I feel many, not in day to day education, do not fully understand. They think they do… but how can they? It’s hard enough for day to day practicing full time head teachers… Ofsted gave judged lessons the boot and for good reason… so why still have a hierarchy sought by inspectors who have various educational views (please don’t say they are all the same) for an overall judgement based on a criteria that anyone can misinterpret. This limiting or liberating judgement based on data and 48 hours (at best) has got to be open to flawed/ human interpretation – therefore is totally fallible . I feel I need to take the Ofsted test. I’ll likely fail. Not good enough, critical enough or analytically astute?… A little like how schools SATs fit the mound or fail… Simple. Cross the line or don’t… if you don’t… we have a name for that! We have a special category for you.
I question the process now because I can. I once thought I would leave Education with respect for the time and passion I have put into a job I love (and get well paid for) based on a successful career. I hate the fact that I now feel that I will eventually be viewed as a failure because as the bar rises, as the new tribes accepting the current climate form, as I question the processes and purposes and as I refuse to accept the narrow and, as I see it, clearly flawed political views of education… I am vulnerable and putting my career at risk. I have been told this in no uncertain terms. You can see it in the power tribes of twitter.
I asked one of my teachers to say sorry this week. They did it and more. We reflected on it together and both realised how powerful reflecting is and how redeeming facing up to issues can be . Admitting we may not have things right is the key duty of senior leaders. I hope that it is also seen as the key duty of our institutions and in particular Ofsted. ‘Where there is smoke there is fire’ and Ofsted really do need to clear the smoke and revel the true narratives around school inspections. I think they are open enough to do this… but I think politics stops them from going the whole way.