The 3 Reasons why OFSTED should Scrap "Outstanding" Ratings

For more than a few School Leaders, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to believe that there is anything that could be more important than being rated Outstanding. When you’re rated “Outstanding” everything is right with the world.

OFSTED loves you. Your staff, children and parents love you. Doors open for you. You’ve proven to everyone, after all, it’s been validated by the nation’s school inspectorate, you are an amazing school leader!

But if you’ve worked with as many Heads as I have, you’ll know that being rated Outstanding is not all that it seems. When you are rated “Outstanding” there is a huge pressure to remain at the top. The pressures of school life still exist, they don’t magically disappear, but everyone now assumes that you are immune to them. You are bullet proof.

There is also a danger in that some individuals equate an OFSTED “Outstanding” grade with their own sense of self-worth. If the OFSTED grade remains high, so too does their sense of self, but if it is lowered they find themselves in a tail spin, plummeting swiftly downwards.

With the appointment of the new OFSTED Head, Amanda Spielman, there has been talk of disposing of the OFSTED grade. I for one, very much hope the talks continue and that we do see a change in the way in which our schools are graded.

If this does happen, we’ll be sure to see a number of ‘academic’ arguments supporting the change. I think too, there are some basic humanitarian arguments for the change…

1. A fixed grade at a moment in time suggests stasis, not movement and growth

The term “Outstanding” can never fully capture what it takes to be an effective school leader. The grading is too narrow and relies on fixed set of criteria to measure an individual’s leadership capacity.

A humane system would demonstrate an understanding of the way in which the demands of the role require a leader to stretch way beyond the remit of their job description. It would acknowledge that for every individual they are continually flexing, changing and growing in response to the demands of the role.

A fixed grading at a moment in time, shows little or no understanding of the process of development and how change affects humans and organisations alike.

2. The ‘Outstanding’ grade bolsters Egocentric Leadership behaviours

It was the legendary American soul and jazz poet, Gill Scott Herron, in his commentary on the Cuban missile crisis, penned the sardonic lines, “There ain’t no such thing as a Superman” And he is right! Superman (or superwoman for that matter) does not exist.

But alas, education today has become dominated (and perpetuated in some cases by the Outstanding grading) by the myth of the Super head. We have all been told how these super-heads have ‘supernatural’ powers to turn around failing schools. What we need to emphasise by moving away from the “Outstanding” terminology is that:

“Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process that ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best in themselves and others”

Belinda Harris

3. ‘Outstanding’ neglects the relational aspects of school improvement

No one likes to be alone. School leadership, especially when you occupy the Headship role, brings with it its own peculiar set of challenges that compound feelings of isolation and loneliness at the top. The OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ grade has only served to compound the situation for many School Leaders.

It has ushered in a new set of criteria for forming relationships between schools, neglecting the fact that ‘Trust’ has to be at the heart of these relationships. How can you measure trust through an OFSTED grading?

The success of any inter-school relationship depends on the level of trust that exists between both parties and a willingness on both sides to ditch ego and to learn from both sides, no matter what the grading.

We have to have a system for holding schools to account that understands the human and relational aspects of school improvement. When this is understood, we’ll have more School Leaders welcoming as opposed to fearing the OFSTED call, knowing that they’ll be engaging with a more humanitarian approach for measuring school effectiveness.

Transforming the Reality of School Leadership

Over the past decade, I have witnessed first-hand how high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability have eroded the profession’s ability to care for and meet the human needs of those who are on the frontline.

I have seen many teachers and School Leaders sacrificing their personal well-being to simply survive in the profession. I’ve coached Heads on the brink of a nervous breakdown. I have received desperate pleas from their partners and witnessed the inhumane treatment of those who have disappeared from the system.

I fear more and more for the loss of humanity in our education system. SAT’s and GCSE results, OFSTED grades and league tables appear to have more importance than the people behind it all.

This is not how education should be. This is not how we fulfil society’s hopes and dreams for our children. Things have to change.

That’s why in October 2022, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for our very special “Education for the Soul” conference.

This conference will feature a new selection of expert speakers and workshop hosts, who will be sharing their insights into how School Leaders can look after their own well-being, lead with authenticity, get the most out of those they lead and above all, deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.

The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of our previous “Education for the Soul” conferences and seek to explore how School Leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose.

As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and their deepest values. Above all, “Education for the Soul” 2022 will aim to help School Leaders and teachers:

– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff
– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and personal development
– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others


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