Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Ofsted

Our school recently went through our latest Ofsted inspection, under three years since our last and, once again, in the vanguard of schools inspected under the latest framework which focuses on just four areas: achievement, teaching, behaviour and safety, and leadership and management. To use those familiar footballing metaphors, goalposts are moved again and the bar is raised. I cannot yet say how we got on, but I can offer a few reflections.

Although everyone wants to do well, most of the pressure falls upon the Head and SLT. The pressure to be "outstanding" is high. The staffroom becomes a place of greater mirth, an "us and them" spirit is pervasive and we enjoy a greater than usual feeling of solidarity. One of the commonest questions is "Have you been observed?" Staff recount how lessons went and how they found each inspector. Teachers try harder than usual, write more detailed lessons plans, though many teachers are not observed at all. Inspectors are under as much scrutiny as teachers and pupils, and we don't always agree with their judgments. Indeed, we take pleasure in disagreeing with them. Meanwhile pupils rise to the occasion and do their best to support their teachers.

These days there is no sense of collaboration with the inspection team, as there once was when the inspectors were greater in number and had more time to talk and give feedback. The latest time-pressured, two day system puts greater pressure on both school and inspector and I was left thinking that they have a pretty grotty job. The recent frameworks also mean that the Ofsted team have too little time to really get to know the school. I was surprised to learn that they are only paid for the two days of inspection and do no preparation before the event. They have a pre-inspection document, shared with the Head, which gives them a steer for the inspection. There is considerable emphasis on any weaknesses highlighted in the last inspection.

Current priorities for inspectors include literacy, numeracy, bullying, assessment for learning and, apparently, teachers talking less. They talk a good deal to students and offer feedback to individual teachers. Middle leaders get to speak to inspectors too.

What about broader issues? We are told that the government believes in greater localism, yet we are still accountable, via Ofsted, the central government, not the local community. In addition, as more and more schools decide to become academies, financed directly from London, accountable to the Secretary of State, not the local authority, the local community is taken out of the loop completely.

I do believe we need a measure of public accountability, but I would sooner see us accountable to the local community, inspected by a local school board working with nationally agreed criteria. Inspection should be tough and probing, but it could also be collaborative. Inspection is currently something which is "to you" not "with you". Furthermore, the current top down system dictates the direction a school subsequently takes. The school's development plan has little to do with the objectives a school may like to set itself, much more to do with those priorities dictated by Ofsted, i.e. the DES.

Would we do our jobs better or worse without Ofsted? Not sure, but the money spent on Ofsted would be better spent on teacher improvement.

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