I’m not totally sure how I feel about the latest announcements from Sir Michael Wilshaw about the future direction of Ofsted. I resisted the urge to blog about it at the weekend as I’m all Ofsteded out and I think many other people are to. However, the Ofsted theme and flavour of the month (though it might only be a week or a day before another change) is less but more frequent so here’s a little bloglet.
On a pessimistic note, with my glass only half full, it seems that this is just another announcement in a long line of recent frenetic changes too many of which have been confused or simply not implemented on the ground.
- Not grading lessons since 2009, apparently, but still grading the quality of teaching in lessons
- No preferred teaching style but reports having to be intercepted and rewritten where a style has been clearly referred to and preferred during the inspection process
- Greater autonomy for schools and a call for system leadership but increased frequency of inspection for good schools
- A charm offensive from Ofsted including in the social media that isn’t always felt by school leaders and teachers during the Ofsted inspection process.
However, I’m going to take the optimistic view that the glass is half full and this is just the first revision in a master plan that will unfold over the coming years.
Less reliance on the use of external service providers (or possibly not renewing contracts?) and a reduction in the number of Additional Inspectors used has two potentially powerful outcomes. The first is that Ofsted will be able to select and appoint the best of the current inspectors and exert a greater influence on the behaviour of a reduced number of high quality inspectors, to act in line with their framework and subsidiary guidance, and to raise the overall quality of inspection teams. The variability in teams is a real problem that is often reported by schools. My own experience of our two schools being inspected on the same days by two different teams was this. One team berated us for not having a particular policy – I think it was Community Cohesion, long since gone from any list of policies required which I wrote overnight with the help of a fellow headteacher – the other team not even asking for it. This is the tip of an iceberg, bonkers stuff goes on daily which needs to stop.
However, with a reduction in the number of centrally employed inspectors there has been a call for a greater number of serving headteachers to be involved in the inspection process. This is welcome in the short term and potentially game changing in the medium to long term. Putting aside concerns about whether school leaders will have the time to commit, to inspections of other schools, this could act as a significant professional development process for the headteachers who do engage. I’m half tempted.
Looking ahead, the development of headteachers’ evaluation skills will add to the professional capital within the school system which can then be harnessed for developing peer to peer self-evaluation and review of schools. This could lead to an annual peer review process with schools sharing good practice and developing joint working to address any issues before they became damaging to children’s education. The role of Ofsted and HMI would change to supporting, developing and challenging the process of self-review and evaluation in good or outstanding schools rather than the direct inspection . These schools need to be free from external inspection to carry on doing the great job they already do. They have earned this right.
For schools that are not yet good the additional time from inspection teams is a mixed blessing. The danger is that it will just create additional unhelpful demands on a school already under pressure. However, if an inspection team, that determined a school was not yet good, was partially held responsible for getting it to good, through adding to the school’s overall capacity to improve, that would be quite different. Many HMIs have the privilege of seeing good and great practice across the school system. This could be shared with and where appropriate implemented in schools journeying to good. Alternatively through brokering support with other schools, where great practice has been observed, improvements can be made. If you take a school into a category you are also responsible for helping it get out of it – more monitoring visits and increased pressure is just too much stick with no carrot.
If this is the first step in a process of review and change from Ofsted it may well be a stroke of sheer genius from Sir Michael Wilshaw. Remember the glass is always full, it just has different amounts of liquid and air in at different times.