Ofsted, we need to talk


While we have yet to experience an Ofsted visit, like many schools we are awaiting our first call post-Covid. We have seen local schools go through the process and, as with pre-Covid, we have heard a range of stories around the experience of different schools. 

Despite not yet receiving a visit from Her Majesty's inspectorate, I can still observe the waves being made across the profession. I recently saw a joke on Twitter which broadly went something like this…

“Is anybody else old enough to remember when you rang up a supply agency and they had teachers ready and available that day?”

Teacher recruitment is something which worries me immensely. Despite our school’s location, which is luckily flanked by universities and teaching colleges, even we are beginning to see a drop in applications for roles. While we are still in the fortunate position where we can interview a range of strong applicants, I know other schools are not so lucky. I remember the first job I ever applied for (and didn’t receive an invitation to interview). I rang looking for feedback. I was told my application was strong. However, there had been 83 applications which had been whittled down to 22 interviewees (all for one post). I imagine there are very few schools in the country which would not be envious of this type of return now. The children still make us smile as much as they always have, colleagues laugh and cry with us as they always have. So, what has changed over the ten years since my first job application? As Dr Mary Bousted points out from survey results, one of the factors is “the pernicious effects of a punitive and deeply flawed inspection system”.

While studying for my National Professional Qualification in Leadership through the National College I was taught the importance of leading improvement through connecting, engaging and working closely with staff. By its own admission Ofsted aims to be a force for improvement. I have yet, within my own experience, to be connected with, engaged or worked closely with the organisation of Ofsted. Ofsted and the profession, as a whole, need to talk. There has not been enough work or research for me to suggest an alternative to the current model. Is this indicative of an organisation that doesn’t want to change? I think most education staff understand the need for Ofsted and would support it through a period of reformation where views and ideas are shared and not dictated. Within my own (special) primary school we have been talking about the ineffectiveness of the one size fits all inspection which we were included within for many years. Even now, with the latest Ofsted reforms, these have yet to be addressed or even discussed.

Speaking to colleagues in other schools, some have described the process being broadly positive. However, even these colleagues question the usefulness and effectiveness of current inspections. Some questioned whether the build up was worse than the visit itself. This leads me to finish with two questions, is Ofsted and the dread which can sometimes be related to it, something we “do” to each other, feeding off the urban legends and horror stories we pass among ourselves at training events? Or, has Ofsted developed such a culture of fear over decades of punitive and ineffective inspections that it is simply too late for half-hearted reform? Regardless, something needs to change. 

Michael Farrelly is a senior leader in a Special primary school.

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