What do head teachers think about the school inspection service?
We recently asked head teachers to contact us if they wanted their OfSTED experiences to be heard. Below we share a number of genuine and anonymised views on their behalf.
New Primary School
This headteacher was asked for data on-site, despite OfSTED insisting that the data was not available. This is what they said:
We were a small, new primary school with under 150 students on-roll, only going up to Year 2. We had no published data except for one year of phonics screening results (above national) and two years of end of EYFS data (at or above national). I predicted above national SATs results based on robust and rigorous monitoring, and above national data across the board.
We had our first OfSTED inspection (June 2018) just before our first set of key stage 1 SATS data was going to be published. We had a two-day inspection with a single lead inspector.
I have experienced six inspections during my career and this one felt very different from the others. It felt very done to, not done with. We had very little professional dialogue or discourse with the Inspector until the end of the first day; at which point it appeared that all was not well. After much discussion and debate with the inspector, we were given a very confusing set of judgements. Our outcomes were judged requires improvement, despite our historical data and predictions. Our teaching was judged requires improvement, despite getting ‘above national’ outcomes. Leadership and management was judged good, even though my teachers were apparently not up to scratch!
When our SATs results were published, every measure was above the national average. We complained, and our complaint was not upheld because ‘that data was not available at the time of inspection’. We could not take the complaint any further because OfSTED does not allow any escalation of any complaint beyond that point. They manage their own complaints process, with no independent oversight.
We are (in my professional opinion) a good school with data consistently above national averages. We are now stuck with a ‘requires improvement’ judgement overall – for the next 30 months! This especially does not seem fair when we know there are ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools in our town who have poorer attainment data and lower attendance than our school.
We are now bigger, growing every year, and to have this hanging over us for another two years is deeply unfair. Also, for some of my staff, it was their first experience of inspection. I had to spend a lot of time and energy supporting them after this confusing and negative experience.
My Headship Is Over!
This headteacher would think twice about a second headship. This is what they said:
OfSTED was the final nail in the coffin for my headship – and almost my career. I was working in a multi-academy trust; I worked in the same school (a school I loved in a challenging area) for almost 8 years in various leadership roles and then a headteacher for two years. I resigned with no job to go to after the pressure intensified following a requires improvement outcome in 2017.
I am in a better place now, but it crushed my confidence and affected my ability to get another job. I considered leaving teaching altogether and I am still very cautious about taking on any type of leadership role.
I panic at the thought of any type of interview or scrutiny of my work now. I lost my whole career network and I have started again in a new local authority, back in the classroom. There was no support for me as a new headteacher, just a huge set of pressures on all fronts after the OfSTED outcome.
Headteacher’s New Challenge …
This headteacher left a great school to take on a new challenge. This is what they said:
There is no doubt in my mind that accountability is a good thing and there should be checks on mechanisms on schools. However, my concern is the validity of the judgements made in such the current narrow and high stakes process. Inspectors have an extremely limited time-frame and only see a narrow range of evidence. They will often bypass aspects of evidence if it is not linked to their inspection trails.
Whilst a framework is to be welcomed so there is also a need for ‘transparency’, inspectors interpretation of the inspection guidance can make a significant difference to a school’s position. This is not satisfactory when a school’s reputation can be damaged, their position affected and people lose their jobs as a consequence.
I have been really interested, following my own poor experience of an inspection, reading a range of inspection reports and seeing how data in some cases is seemingly being used as a ‘stick to beat schools with’ – and in other cases often ignored. The reasons why one school does not appear to be good are often bypassed in other schools. In my view, OfSTED has stopped becoming a mechanism to drive school improvement and is now the catalyst to affect structural change in school governance.
Ask yourself: What changes are in place if you are ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’? Nothing! You carry on as you are … However, if you are judged to be ‘require improvement’ then you have a damaged reputation and no additional support or guidance. How can the cost of this from the public purse be justified at a time when schools need the money to improve? And those around the OfSTED leadership team receive bonuses?
Finally, there needs to be serious consideration of the inequality currently facing schools across the country. How do demographics affect OfSTED judgements? How can a school with significantly higher percentages of SEND or pupil premium pupils, with less money, be judged on the same basis as a school in a completely different context?