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Will the real OFSTED please stand up!

Will the real OFSTED please stand up!

(a Headteacher’s perception of the current framework, having just been inspected!)

I think all schools, Headteachers and governors fear the OFSTED call. Phones are kept visible and audible until 2pm each Wednesday just in case the call comes (OFSTED can’t inspect that week under Section 5 inspection framework,  if they don’t notify schools before this time.)

When 2pm Wednesday arrives it feels like Friday night and I’m sure most heads will empathise with this feeling. We then get to Monday morning and it all starts again. There must be a medical name for this repetitive strain!

Mr Gove thinks this fear is un-necessary but when you have an organisation which essentially is a law unto itself, arrives at a judgement on a school which you and your staff have invested their heart and soul into, and critically the outcome of the inspection can hinge so much on the quality and nature of the inspector, you have everything to fear.

A glass half empty inspector can see you in RI when a glass half full inspector who understands the direction of travel and progress being made and can spot the traits of sustainability will see you get a good. Interestingly the subsidiary guidance has changed in January and inspectors are asked to look at and take consideration of direction of travel. Had this subsidiary guidance been in place a month earlier there is a strong possibility that our grade would have changed. Such is the lottery of OFSTED.

In essence when the phonecall is made you enter a lottery and it can depend upon who you get as lead inspector. This isn’t guesswork, this is based on the 9 inspections I have been through and is corroborated by other heads.

Once the phonecall has arrived and you know who you have got, the inspection path is already charted in front of you. My personal view is that you take inspectors as you find them, however those whose reputations go before them tend to behave according to type but there is little you can do once you are on the rollercoaster.

Most inspectors are now good at checking with you that you are happy during the inspection but those who know the system will then leave the controversial decision over grading until as late as possible to give the school as little time as possible to complain, elicit a quick getaway  and then suggest it is sour grapes.

Complaining to OFSTED post inspection is as effective as building an ice house in the Sahara. There really is no point. If you are going to complain then do it whilst the inspection is running but clearly some inspectors are wise to this and leave controversial judgements as late as possible.

In terms of the actual process of inspection I can only really comment on my experiences but they also tie in with those of other heads so there is clearly a theme.

In my opinion, the inspection is carried out before the inspectors enter the school. Raiseonline is the deciding factor. If you have blue on your Raise, you are heading for RI or inadequate. If you have green you are looking at good or better. If you think about this, quality assured reports will prevent a school being classed as a good with blue on Raise. Essentially the inspection is conducted from paper and data. If you are making good progress and more than nationally expected progress as we are, this should be recognised, and used to be under the old framework. However this becomes an inconvenient truth which inspectors appear to sidestep and look for reasons for the blue on Raise.

Having made a decision about the outcome of the inspection, the team come in with a picture of the school which they try to find evidence for. If attainment is blue on Raise the chances are that they will find some teaching to be RI or inadequate. If this is the case they will then make a judgement about how much the teachers have been supported and developed and will then make a judgement about leadership and management.

It literally is a series of dominoes and once the Raise domino has been pushed over, this falls onto the achievement domino which is pushed over, this pushes the quality of teaching domino over which then pushes the leadership and management domino over. Behaviour and safety can avoid this domino effect as sometimes it helps to portray the children as well behaved as this helps the perception that not even poor pupil behaviour is a barrier to learning.

The reason why these dominoes shouldn’t push each other over, is that the analysis of Raise and consequent inspection, pre-supposes that this is the current situation in the school now but  Raise is an historic analysis of data. It doesn’t show recent improvement and direction of travel.

As a result teaching could be outstanding but progress won’t be recorded on Raise depending on when you are inspected. In our case we were told that there wasn’t anything we should be doing that we’re not already doing in terms of leadership and management and yet the grade for L&M is RI. It just doesn’t make sense and if we are trying to get parents a clearer understanding of pupil progress by getting rid of levels then this nonsensical approach to inspection should go as well.

Once upon a time OFSTED used to report to parents on the profile of a school. The current framework misleads parents into believing that their school has deteriorated and yet I believe that we are a better school than when we were last inspected in 2010.

Which brings me back to the title of this piece.

OFSTED argue that they are there to report to parents, but misleading them based on a politically motivated framework is not informing parents, it misleads them, destroys trust and in towns like Blackpool where the public services are gluing the community together, it helps to destroy community.

So if not informing parents accurately, maybe they are a school improvement service and whilst not being that yet, this would be a useful future for OFSTED but as a primary head I wouldn’t be able to advise on secondary education and it shouldn’t be that secondary heads should advise on primary school improvement.

 If this is going to be OFSTED’s new clothes then there is much to do at OFSTED to make it fit for purpose.

The links between DfE and OFSTED are now tighter than any point in OFSTED’s history. If they are to be one and the same thing then let’s say so.

It’s time for the system to redefine who and what OFSTED is for. At present parents who know our school and the full range of services, care, support and yes data that represents our school know and tell us that ours is a good school. However the present framework and OFSTED itself are rapidly becoming discredited because inspector judgements are not what parents see when they analyse their school.

Despite my comments here I think there is a place for OFSTED, I’m just not sure that anyone knows what it is at the moment!

I’d like inspectors who are:

*  knowledgeable about whole school improvement

*  have had experience in leading a school in the phase of education which they are inspecting

* have the skills, knowledge, attitudes and people skills to help the inspected school improve

*  understand the range of things which make schools successful and not just raw data.

I know that this is going to require a major change in the way that OFSTED and its inspection framework works but if OFSTED represent parents then this is what parents want to see. If parents see inspection judgements which don’t tie in with their knowledge of the school, the whole credibility of inspection is brought into doubt.


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