The effect of OFSTED

This is a strange post to write but felt as I keep thinking it I should reflect via a blog.

I remember my first ofsted which took place around 2002. The hushed meeting announcing that OFSTED had called and the inspection would take place in six weeks. The panic that took hold over that time period, the efforts we put in to ready ourselves. Then finally the slow, painful walk to the staff room for that talk from an HMI outlining what was going to happen over the next week.

The experience itself was a flooding of inspectors. All faculties had an inspector in with them for the week. I was observed fours times, one was abandoned as the IT failed and the inspector felt that it would be unfair to stay. I was happy with my lessons overall and felt it was a fair reflection on my practice at the time. We then gained a report full of observations and most importantly advice on how to improve. The report was written by the team for our school.

Inspections since have become shorter in notice and time. They have become an adversarial battle, mainly on who understands data better. They are tight in time, everyone is under pressure, conversations become arguments. Marginal decisions are debated, our decision making is questioned aggressively and in return we have started to question the validity of the inspectors experience. Too many haven’t taught in a long time and very few have led a school. The output is a series of platitudes, approved sentences and a couple of statement bank areas we should look at.

This is obvious, right? So what is my point?

As a new head I am attempting to step away from the seemingly desired culture of clipboards and checking. Moving the SLT away from spending their time constantly checking that everyone else is ticking all the boxes we feel OFSTED will look at. A direction of travel in an opposite direction to the Whilshaw idea of driving morale downwards to prove you are getting it right. This idea of carrots and sticks. Performance related pay.

I have taken as my model the revisit of the research of motivation by Daniel Pink. The message from Professional Capital by Hargreaves and Fullan. I believe that this is right. I believe that a teacher led professional development culture. I want to develop a culture in my school that:

Ensures development will be self and peer directed
That we will observe and be observed more regularly by our peers and through this we will be open to development conversations and happy to positively criticise each other’s practice
We will have a no blame culture
We will actively seek feedback on our practice
Our confidence and enjoyment will increases
We will have a thriving active research aspect to our school
Our students will achieve better results

I want all my staff to be confident about their practice that they will happily discuss those lessons that went wrong. To talk to each other about areas, students, topics etc that they feel aren’t going as well as they would like. For staff to work with each other and have the time to develop their own and their colleagues practice.

Anyone disagree?

This seems right, feel right to me. But everyday I keep asking myself the same questions…will OFSTED like this? Will OFSTED get this? Will their check boxes and clipboards be able to cope with this? Can inspectors ever be ready to recognise that every teacher is capable of delivering all the grades of a lesson? Not because they want to, but because in most cases we are just human? I recognise that the majority of us deliver most lessons that would be an OFSTED grade of good. Occasionally most of us will pop into outstanding and we all know the feeling when it does. We also know the feeling when it doesn’t go right or occasionally when a lesson is simply inadequate. But, like most professionals we punish ourselves, reflect, replay the lesson in our head and start again. Unlike the current inspection make up, I like to judge a teacher’s worth on more than a 25 minute observation.

So what is wrong with OFSTED? It is the fact no matter how many times you tell yourself you aren’t, you always end up asking “how will OFSTED view this?”, “how can I prove to OFSTED that this is the right way?” and “how can I collect the evidence?”. When the only question to any policy or development should be “what will be the effect on the students’ progress?”


12 thoughts on “The effect of OFSTED

  1. The best teachers are always reviewing their practice – finding ways to tweek and improve things further.

    Being appraised and criticised is never an easy thing: I learned early on that you’ve got to give 5 lots of praise for every bit of criticism. I entirely agree with your comments about OfStEd: the first iteration was huge, but I’m not sure that the latest version is thorough or effective. Surely constructive help is the better way forward?

    Anyway, congratulations on your appointment as a Head – surely ripe fruit for the substance of a blog! 😉

      1. Be visible.

        Find practice to praise (but perhaps praise quietly).

        Recognise and appreciate efforts made (a card is good).

        Try to be even with the praise too.

        And keep your hand in – do some teaching!

  2. Hallelujah! Totally agree – inspections were much more fit for purpose years ago. Had my first in 97 and was disappointed if inspector didn’t come to a lesson as wanted to show what me and the kids could do. Now feels completely fake. Now on SLT and am attempting to work with colleagues in mutual learning way rather than police them. What you are attempting is fantastic. Can I come and work for you (haha)?

  3. What a brilliant, inspiring read. Great to see there are some heads out there who have the guts to do what is right for their learners and by their staff.

    As teachers, we seemed designed to self criticise and constantly reflect and improve our practice. Good leaders will allow them to identify, and celebrate, what their strengths are too.

    Good on you. I wish you all the best.

  4. II was an Ofsted inspector in the early days. As part of the training, we had a presentation from a head who had undergone a trial Ofsted. It sounded terrible. ‘Do I really want to be part of this?’ I asked myself. In the end, I decided perhaps I might manage it with some humanity – which seemed to be missing from the account we heard. It was a huge privilege to be allowed into schools and celebrate the good work that was going on – and highlight where it wasn’t. I worked with some dedicated colleagues who were determined to do their best for the school. I truly believe we were advocates for the pupils. That meant on occasions we had to give very hard messages and – not surprisingly – things became adversarial. We were no more welcome in schools than the Ofsted teams of today.
    I gave up Ofsted inspections in 2000 to focus on something where I felt I could make a difference in the longer term. Now I support headteachers through coaching and helping them to develop resilience to deal with the stresses of the job. I agree that ‘good leaders will allow teachers to identify and celebrate what their strengths are’. In my experience, too many good leaders forget to celebrate their own. It’s like there’s conspiracy of silence amongst school leaders, where it’s not okay to take care of yourself as a leader, you have to be looking after everyone else. Leaders absorb all the projections and insecurities of those around them – including a government and press who want to blame schools for all society’s ills. Resilient leaders know it’s important to take care of themselves – to put on their own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. When the oxygen supply is thin, it’s easy to hallucinate and imagine Ofsted inspectors are more significant than the students.

    Good luck!

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