The time for change has now come. Following the tragic death of Ruth Perry, it is clear that far from being seen as supportive, the whole OFSTED process inflicts pain, hurt and injury upon the profession as a whole.
Amanda Speilman steps down from office at the end of this year. However, we shouldn’t have to wait until then for change to happen. The wheels should already be set in motion for the creation of a more compassionate and humane school inspectorate.
What might that look like? What needs to be taken account of? As a team of coaches, who daily support some of the most gifted and talented School Leaders in the country and hear the human cost of OFSTED’s extreme levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability, we argue (that along with others that the profession is putting forward) these four points also need to be considered:
- Take the fear out of Ofsted inspections: Children don’t thrive in cultures of fear. Therefore, expecting our teachers and School Leaders to thrive in a climate where an Ofsted inspection is equivalent to having the sword of Damocles hanging over your head is highly counterproductive.
- Value the context and its specific data: Far too little value is placed on the unique contexts of different schools. However, most head teachers know intimately the intricacies of the families and communities they serve. This information provides the framework around which they build their school improvement strategies. Ofsted needs to acknowledge this more when schools are inspected.
- Find a way to inspire the profession: We have yet to come across a school that has felt inspired after an Ofsted inspection. The reality is that many are exhausted and relieved to be able to put the whole process behind them. Imagine the difference it would make if teachers and School Leaders felt inspired and energised by an Ofsted inspection. Perhaps then, Ofsted would genuinely be ‘seen as a force for improvement.’
- Celebrate our teachers and School Leaders: Sadly, it appears to have become a norm to criticise our teachers and School Leaders. No one is perfect, but we know many in the profession who try to achieve perfection of some sort for our children. Of course, perfection is unattainable, but many will strive to give all our children a chance of a better future. So, a bit of praise, now and then, for all their hard work wouldn’t go a miss.
Most of our teachers and School Leaders do a fantastic job. For many, it is a vocation—a profession they have chosen to enter because they passionately believe they can make a difference. But, unfortunately, the past incarnations of Ofsted have not served to fuel this passion. Instead, they have tended to highlight the imperfections of teachers and School Leaders. Standards cannot and will not be raised if the vocational vitality of adults in our schools is not protected and supported.
As plans are made to appoint Amanda Speilman’s successor, we hope the profession will see a more humane side to Ofsted. Indeed, we hope a passion for excellence, rigour and high standards for all will sit equally alongside compassion, humanity and hope. They will no longer be seen as mutually exclusive. Instead, our School Leaders will be supported by a system that understands how to properly develop and support those who have courageously chosen to lead our schools.