How can we trust OfSTED leadership if we cannot raise a complaint about how decisions are reached?
Read this head teacher’s opinion of the OfSTED’s complaints process …
Taking on a new challenge…
I took on headship 12 years ago after the school had been in special measures for over a year. It was now January 2018. I had been looking forward to a Section 5 OfSTED inspection following the extension to an all through school; a complete rebuild and the school finding itself in the best position it had ever known.
However, serious errors were made due to the lead inspector not listening to the school; simply failing to apply the inspection framework. Following the school’s complaint, a further day with two HMIs was added.
Policing OfSTED Complaints
Some inaccuracies were removed from the report, but the main bulk of evidence collected in the original inspection was still applied. Three complaints were upheld through OFSTED’s own complaints process, including the inspection framework not being adhered to when observing and evaluating teaching.
The complaints process found further complaints and the designated people at OfSTED were ‘unable to decide’. This included reference to the conduct of the lead Inspector.
A sensible request?
I requested an internal review which acknowledged that further errors had been made in the complaints process. I was thanked for raising them. My request asked for “a cancellation of the complete inspection”, leaving the existing report in place until a completely new inspection could be carried out.
It was refused and an inaccurate report remains in the public domain. This action would not have involved a change in the overall judgement given.
Asking critical questions on the hoof?
During the original inspection, a potential conflict of interest was referred back to me as the headteacher. I was told that it was my decision whether to invalidate the inspection and halt it at that point (11 AM on the second day). I asked if I was able to take advice… Thirty minutes later in a crucial meeting about outcomes, I was asked for my decision in front of three school colleagues and another inspector.
I asked if I could speak to the lead Inspector outside the meeting and said that I wanted to take advice from ASCL. I was told that a decision was needed immediately.
I told the lead inspector that I did not accept that it was my responsibility to take the decision to ‘halt the inspection’. This was fed back to OfSTED who made the decision to continue with the inspection.
Performance data drives the agenda …
Other errors involved included:
- Failing to take into account pupils who started a key stage elsewhere or have not completed their current key stage: Less than 50 percent of our year eleven pupils with key stage 2 data.
- Our newly opened primary school was in its fourth term with 92 children across reception and years one to four. Reference was made to historical data which consisted of a year two cohort of 9 children and a single early years foundation stage reception class – with a changed cohort from reception to year one.
- Our progress 8 score (2016-2017) was constantly referred to as a ‘dip’. It was a drop of -0.07 (unvalidated) and remained average. The three-year trend showing significant improvement.
- The rise in the attainment measure 9-4 English and maths of 9 percent were dismissed.
- The 38 percent figure for 9 – 5 English and maths and the progress and attainment in triple science was ignored as a measure of the quality of teaching, particularly for all higher ability students (not just those with KS2 data) and as a measure of the progress of the school.
- Case studies were shared but ignored. These included serious adverse events in students’ lives and joining the school midway through year ten.
Behaviour for learning preferences?
Preferred models of behaviour for learning, which differed with the school’s approach, were evident in the questioning of students and staff and in the feedback judgements. Feedback from meetings and lesson observations by two inspectors were inconsistent with the accounts from groups of staff and school records of the meetings and observations.
The responses from Parent View were positive, yet – even though OfSTED promote a questionnaire which asks parents for their views on teaching and learning – who have no experience of being in classrooms! Our governing body scrutiny of parental satisfaction was very positive, but this did not feature in any of the feedback.
Evaluating the curriculum …
The school has two additional resource provisions; no special educational needs timetables were requested. The work of teaching assistants and specific provision was not covered.
A restricted view of the curriculum and the quality of teaching was a consequence of the focus on EBacc subjects for lesson observations and was questioned. Many subjects were still completely missed. A Teach First trainee was observed three times.
Teaching and Learning
I took part in four joint observations with the lead inspector but was not asked to provide feedback to the teachers, therefore was not observed doing so. The inspector in the primary school gave some feedback but did not ask the deputy headteacher jointly observing to give any feedback. No other joint observations took place in the original section 5.
One inspector criticised the teaching and progress in books of a maths teacher. A subsequent visit to the same teacher with the same class – by a second inspector on the second day – stated that the books showed progress and reported that the lesson was positive! When this inconsistency was pointed out to the team at the end of day two, it was totally ignored and passed over. This error was finally acknowledged by the internal review process.
A little too late?
Lacking understanding or empathy?
The lead inspector lacked any understanding of the data beyond simple headlines. Complex school responses were responded to with either a ‘change of subject’ or the quoting of an ‘irrelevant piece of the inspection framework’ and moving on. Very small cohorts of students (a high percentage of whom joined as mid-key-stage three or key stage 4 stage entrants) were used as the indicator of underperformance (the same six students – case studies provided) appeared in all these sub-groups.
In both the primary and secondary phases the significantly low attainment on entry was dismissed repeatedly and progress considered in terms of likelihood to reach national expected outcomes. The school was asked to predict current students’ likely rates of progress for the current year eleven. This is against all OfSTED myth-busting guidance!
References to the school’s relatively strong position in the Department for Education’s family of schools’ comparative data was dismissed out of hand! The overall progress record was ignored, where prior attainment was in the 98th percentile nationally, to reach progress outcomes in the 54th percentile overall. Family Fischer Trust value-added data was ignored.
At the end of each day, both meetings required frequent clarifications regarding accuracy – but not welcomed. School staff were sat against a wall with the inspection team meeting around a table in the centre of the room, some with their backs to school staff. This was the lead inspector’s arrangement. In all other inspections I have been involved with, I have been afforded the dignity of sitting at the same table as the OfSTED colleagues holding the meeting.
On the day after the original inspection, I submitted my intention to retire in the autumn of 2018. I saw through the complaint; the further inspection day; the internal review and continued to lead a school that I was proud of. I have returned to working directly with students.
It is my belief, that if you have not experienced the sharp end of OfSTED, then you will find it very difficult to understand why some schools, individual head teachers and many school leaders are unsure about the forthcoming OfSTED reforms. If school inspections lack consistency, transparency and some form of accountability back on to the inspectors, it’s hard to believe that OfSTED can be a force for school improvement.