*Otherwise known as a ramble
I am writing because though it is early days for the new Ofsted Framework I sense some rising panic on the dance floors of twitter. I am very cautious nowadays when twitter froth rises to the swirling rivers surface. I have seen and heard it far too often to invest too much of my time and passion in to it… but twitter is a vast echo chamber for all its faults and it can not be dismissed out of hand for fear of missing a vital link. I think that since Sean Harford has come off twitter there is also no one filtering what is being written but the debate rages on and on regardless. Nothing is sexier in education than a damn fine Ofsted crisis.
I have seen more than a few inspections in my time and on the whole I am still a fan of Ofsted. On a personal level they have served me well. I am not going to get caught up in the anti-Ofsted chant though, not just yet… I am going to prepare for my next Ofsted no matter what is said and keep in mind all the things I have learnt about surviving an Ofsted over the past 24 years.
But I have, as I have always had, my deep concerns about the Ofsted process; especially limiting judgement and the fact that those judgments come down to the opinions of a few people who are rarely faced with running a school. I can’t see that ever changing. The system of judgement we have so relentlessly pursued is set in its frame and unless a radical change happens the fear will continue to be an underlying factor in most inspections. I know I still feel it – the fear that I have lost my tongue, that I have forgotten my strategy, the fear that an outstanding judgement will go, the fear that the great work we have done will not be recognised because I (and I alone) have failed; the fear that I am uncovered for the sham that I am. I can never truly welcome an Ofsted- not when so much I have built up and invested so much time and energy in could be utterly destroyed within 48 hours. Even when I am confident that doubt still resides- what if an Ofsted destroys my career? What if I am left with nothing to show for a career spanning decades- is a terrible Ofsted going to be my final Swan-Song? It’s probably second favorite just behind my health… I have seen Ofsted as a major factor in the downfall of so many head teachers over the years… sometimes I have seen it as a welcome need and at others I have felt a deep sadness that it pushed good people away from what they were doing. That is the power, fear and judgement hanging heavy when the phone finally rings. No one escapes that. No one thinks it will be a doddle. I have sat with many a head teacher who’s mental health has dissolved and it is almost always Ofsted that drives the conversation.
My biggest concern now though is Ofsted can’t really tell me anything I do not already know. I know my schools strengths and gaps and I know what we are doing about them. That doesn’t make them go away. That doesn’t help me with the Gaps. But, and I have only read a few inspection reports so far, it also seems that Ofsted have certain priorities in their reports. That they are putting a search light into new areas… areas that – if you look hard enough you can always find something to improve. They always have. My first inspection had the line – The school now needs to improve Teaching and Learning… Oh, that little fix. Remember so many inspection reports saying – the school needs to ensure that marking is… I will be very interested in seeing what themes come out of the new framework. When we expect phonics, curriculum and behaviour we may find that its something else in the long term.
What is Ofsted’s purpose? When stripping it down to its bare-bones what does it do?
Without a sarcastic bone I believe that at its heart it is to make our education system better? What other purpose could it have? To make it cheaper or less better? Even Ofsteds greatest critic would be hard pressed to believe that. I think we have pretty good evidence that it is Ofsted that has raised standards through heightened expectations. This tactic has had some pretty spectacular results. It’s the same approach used to heighten expectations in the curriculum and increase the challenge in SATs… if we raise the expectations they WILL meet it and we usually do. In the words of an inspector I once met… show me the impact? So, why would Ofsted get rid of limiting judgements? That fear I spoke about earlier is a mighty fine sword for driving forward standards in our schools. Yeah, there’s collateral along the way but hey – if you cant stand the heat get out of the classroom… or something?
Even if we believe it is Ofsted that has driven improvements in the education system we also need to acknowledge that Ofsted has also played a major role in driving other things. There is no doubt that they dictate the focus in schools and beyond. They line the pockets of consultants, entrepreneurs and big business. I get a constant barrage of emails every week selling me the secrets of surviving, thriving or besting the Ofsted beast (Coupled with a dash of FEAR). If their focus is behaviour then everyone is talking about behaviour; if their focus is reading and then, guess what? No bad thing in my mind. It’s not as though they are pushing for ‘Apathy’.
Reading all the views and experiences posted we get muddled up in what is real and what is not. We need to be careful not to over-react when Ofsted comes under scrutiny lost in the emotional impact it has on most of us. It is a system that is set up to drive improvement (whether we agree with the way it does it or not). As much as, ‘just trust us without Ofsted we would continue to improve’, might sound like a good way forward – in reality its a pretty poor strategy. As much as I hate to admit it maybe we need a little Ofsted in our schools to keep us on edge and focused upon important stuff…
So, lets not burn any bridges when we look at improving the way we could work with Ofsted.