Coaching & Leadership Development
December 14, 2017

How OFSTED harms the Emotional Health of our Schools

How OFSTED harms the Emotional Health of our Schools



How many schools do you know that following an OFSTED visit, their staff have felt an upsurge in energy and have been inspired and motivated to carry out their roles with increased levels of passion and commitment?


If you know of any, I’d like to be introduced to them and to be told of their secret formula for overcoming the huge amounts of stress that OFSTED inspections induce.


Head of OFSTED, Amanda Spielman recently said that,


There are quite a few heads in the system who write blogs that spin up levels of anxiety. It’s not just the various parts of government… there’s also a responsibility in the whole education system not to manufacture tension which shouldn’t be there”


In my opinion, these Heads that she refers to are not writing blogs to ‘spin up levels of anxiety or to ‘manufacture tension which shouldn’t be there’ they are simply writing to tell it how it is.


They are simply saying “We are human beings operating in a system that has yet to take full account of and understand the emotional impact that OSTED has upon us and our schools.


They are saying, “We need a relational model of school leadership/accountability that builds trusts and allows us to be autonomous in our decisions as school leaders.”


It’s a hard message for OFSTED to hear, but ask any Head and they will tell you that a culture of fear does exist and it not based on hearsay or myth. It is based upon their own experiences and that of many of their colleagues.


Instead of actively supporting schools to thrive, OFSTED has become a system in which adults are forced to compete to survive.


When we are in survival mode we don’t perform at our best. The world is a scary place to be. Our nerves and our emotions take a constant daily battering as we remain on high alert:


– Always on the look out

– Always scanning the horizon for threat

– Always fearing or expecting the worst


Dr David Rock, President of the NeuroLeadership Institute, says that when individuals work in environments that foster these behaviours they, “experience it as neural impulse, as powerful and painful as a blow to the head”.


And this is the reality for most school leaders who have gone through an OFSTED inspection, whether the outcome has been favourable or otherwise.


This is the reason why Heads and others like myself blog about the need for changes to the way in which school leaders are held to account. There has to be a more humane approach. An approach which actively supports an individual’s sense of vocation, builds trust and enables individuals to thrive.


The American educator, author and activist Parker J Palmer argues;


“To those who say that we need weights and measures in order to enforce accountability in education, my response is, yes, of course we do, but only under three conditions that are not being met today. We need to make sure;


1) That we measure things worth measuring in the context of authentic education, where rote learning counts for little


2) That we know how to measure what we set out to measure


3) That we attach no more importance to measurable things than we attach to things equally or more important that elude our instruments”


When we have an inspection system that can meet these three conditions, then there will be no need for Heads and others like myself to write blogs about the often-negative emotional impact of OFSTED.


Until that time (and I remain hopeful that a change will come) those at the chalk-face will continue to write. Their words, serving as an expression of their shared humanity with other colleagues; colleagues who so often feel alone and isolated, as a result of the systems current punitive methods for measuring performance.



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. The humanity has to brought back into accountability and the well-being of every teacher and school leader is considered an utmost priority.


That’s why on the 18th October 2018, we hosted Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for our “Education for the Soul” 2018 Conference designed to help leaders to explore and discuss what matters most to them (their values, hopes and passion) and locate ways of leading that are aligned to themselves and their hope for their schools.


It is fair to say, the day was a very special one and a huge success with so many school leaders and education professionals joining us for this. It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.


Following the success of the conference, I’m delighted to say that in October 2020, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.


“Education for the Soul” 2020 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, get the most out of those they lead and 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” 2020 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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