Ofsted removes the joy from subject leadership


Ofsted’s framework has done more harm than good

A primary teacher’s view

Some things haven’t changed in teaching. There are books that need looking at. Biscuits never last longer than five minutes in the staff room. Other aspects have. More tests, more accountability, and less money. One change I always felt was less discussed was the transformation of primary subject leadership. I was a teacher for six years and had seen the role completely change, and not for the better. I think Ofsted’s framework has increased workload and accountability, while taking away creativity.  

When I first started teaching, leaders would meet once a term. They would share practice and ensure we had the resources we needed. They would lead meetings where we would work as a team to flesh out the curriculum. I remember one meeting where we used large pieces of sugar paper to organise our school curriculum; it felt democratic and collaborative. Even as an NQT, I felt like my voice mattered.

I was able to plan for role play, drama, and art in a range of areas and I enjoyed my autonomy. Subject leaders’ light, but supportive touch, pushed me in the right direction. I could show them the work that I was proudest of, and they had the time to support me with things that hadn’t gone to plan. Middle leadership seemed like an exciting opportunity to me, and something to look forward to in the future.

I do think there was work to be done to improve teaching of foundation subjects. I don’t think they were given the high status they deserved and more could have been done to deepen children’s understanding in subjects other than English and Maths. The publication of Ofsted’s new framework was an ill-fitted solution.

After the framework was published, subject leadership seemed to turn from creativity, collaboration and innovation to paperwork and ticking boxes. Hours would be spent developing knowledge organisers, assessment grids and vocabulary toolkits. Meetings after school would be long and tedious. My school (quite rightly) paid us TLRs and gave us leadership time. This time, however, was designated for monitoring tasks like learning walks and book looks. There would be at least one of these per week, in addition to any monitoring from SLT. We were constantly performing for each other.

Every subject needed to be taught in a way that would look good in books. Circle times needed a photograph and a paragraph of reflection, drama needed to be finished early so children could write about it. Subject leaders were beginning to medium-term plan each subject, so I soon lost any autonomy I previously had.

The worst part, however, was deep dives. We had consultants come in through the year, poke holes in our planning and then get in their car to do the same to another school. After a deep dive, I remember a colleague telling me in tears that they wished they could just be a class teacher again.

I believe Ofsted’s framework has done more harm than good. Ofsted may argue that schools do not have to put these practices in place, but I feel this overlooks their responsibility in affecting and changing school culture. Leaders will want their schools to look ‘good’ but this often is in conflict with teacher wellbeing and autonomy. Subject leadership should be a joy, but if Ofsted are involved, this won’t change.

By an NEU primary school member and former subject leader

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