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Leadership, OFSTED, Redesigning Schools

#Imagine … No Ofsted

In John Lennon’s famous song Imagine he thinks the unthinkable and then imagines what the World would be like.  Imagine if we did the same.  If we don’t imagine a better future and then construct it, someone else will.  It’s time for us to take control of the agenda.  Imagine there’s no Ofsted, it’s Easy if you try.

Over the next few weeks I will be talking at two different conferences, one involving headteachers & deputies and the other aspiring senior leaders, about the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.  The sessions will consist of a think piece, a short presentation and then a discussion.  To try to get my thinking organised, I’ve decided to do a couple of mini blog posts and then work out which ones are best or most suitable for the various events.  Any comments or thoughts you have would be gratefully received.

Accountability for What, by Whom, How and When

Accountability is a timeless tension within our system.  It is right we are held to account for the public money entrusted to us.  If accountability isn’t correctly balanced it can become either:

  • A perverse, damaging and unhelpful driver within the system it is trying to improve.
  • Alternatively, if there is too little accountability we can fail to spot or stop unacceptable practices or address standards which are unacceptably low.

Ofsted have become synonymous with accountability in many people’s thinking.  This is understandable as you have to be of a certain age, mid forties plus, to remember an Education System without Ofsted.  The problem now is that Ofsted and its processes are driving the system to the exclusion of almost every other potential form of accountability.  Potentially this is our current Accountability Matrix.

Accountability Body - Table 1

There is such variability and national prescription of what local and regional accountability bodies must do you could actually question whether they should be included in the table.  There is a real and profound systemic problem.  So much of what happens in schools is to “Keep Ofsted happy.” 

Or as I would say “Keep the wolves away from the door”.

Where is the layering and subtlety of accountability required in a complex system that could include:

  • Distinct and discrete personal or institutional accountability aligned to vision and values.  An accountability that calls us to do what is right for the children we serve, their families and our communities?  The accountability which asks, “Would this be good enough for my children.”
  • Genuine accountability to students and their parents rather than pretence and on-line questionnaires.
  • Peer accountability between schools and their leaders within the locality that form part of the fragile ecosystem in which we educate our young people.

As an aside, please remember for leadership to flourish accountability must sit alongside the ability to make decisions and the support and resource to implement them effectively.  I’ve used this diagram before, form the Hay Group, to show the relationship.  The same question as above could be asked using the two other elements of leadership.

Hay Group - Leadership Clarity

Hay Group – Leadership Clarity

Is Ofsted Broken?

In The Curious Incident of the Trojan Horse in the Middle of Birmingham, Sir Tim Brighouse asks twenty questions about the recent inspection of a number of schools in Birmingham.  The questions are wide ranging but of particular interest are those around the:

  • Independence, impartiality, expertise and experience of the inspection teams
  • The collection of “evidence” through anecdote and uncorroborated accounts of past events rather, by inspectors, than reporting what they observed.
  • The contradictory verdicts of inspection reports produced in a relatively short space of time.

Is Ofsted Measuring the Wrong Things?

Michael Cladingbowl, National Director of Inspection Reform for Ofsted, has recently announced that there will be a trial of ungraded lesson observation in inspections.  I think this is well meaning and some would argue a step in the right direction.  However, should Ofsted be actually measuring the quality of teaching or is that the role of middle and senior leaders in schools?

What about safeguarding?  Should this be Ofsted’s responsibility every three to five years, in the case of many schools, or should there be an annual unannounced Safeguarding Audit (bit like you do for accounts & financial management) to check the strength of school systems and processes?

What is not being evaluated that you would consider a crucial part of the Mission and Vision of your school?

Is Ofsted Measuring Things Wrongly?

How can you measure the quality of teaching over time if you’re only there for one and a half days? 

Is this sensible and would the protocols (supposing protocols are being used) for assessing things like the quality of teaching be accepted within the field of research as valid and reliable?  What level of error is within each judgement made?  If Ofsted grade your school as Good, allowing for error are you effectively somewhere between Requires Improvement and Outstanding?

How are Ofsted evaluating leadership?  Can it be meaningfully measured this way?

How would you measure and evaluate key areas of a school’s work in a valid and reliable way?  How could the validity and reliability be enhanced?

A New Accountability

If you constructed a new Accountability Matrix for a Self-improving School System what would it look like?

Accountability Body - Table 2

What areas of accountability would you remove or add?

For each area how often would an evaluation be appropriate and by whom?

How would you evaluate each area, ensuring the metrics are reliable and valid?

“It is Now Time for the Profession to Take Charge”

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, writes in his article “It is Now for the Profession to Take Charge”:

I believe that up until now we have been dabbling in system leadership. It is now time for the profession to take charge as we move into the next phase. The (former) National College for School Leadership defined system leadership as “educational leadership”, rather than “institutional leadership”. Educational leadership includes but should not be limited by locality or groups of schools. The next phase in system leadership is leadership of the education system itself.

The issue of accountability is driving some school leaders out of the profession and putting off others from the role of headship.  Maybe we need to #Imagine … All School Leaders, Living Life in Peace, the next post in the series.


Carpe Diem

Things are becoming chaotic so let’s seize the day take hold of the educational agenda.

 You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

The Other Posts in this series:

#Imagine All School Leaders, Living Life In Peace

#Imagine All the Children, Challenged and Fulfilled

#Imagine all the Teachers, Working Successfully

#Imagine Accountability, Intelligent & True

#Imagine There’s No Chaos, Coherence is the Key (To Be Published)

If you would like to read some more thoughts about changing the current Ofsted Model, here are mine from earlier this year:

Ofsted Get It Right for Once … Oh, No They Didn’t

@HeadsRoundtable – Revise, Revise, Demise for Ofsted



11 thoughts on “#Imagine … No Ofsted

  1. Hi Stephen

    Aren’t the main people that should be accountable the teachers?

    Also, I’m assuming you’ve included Governors in the school leadership but might be useful to separate them as the processes for accountability will be different.

    For some there may also be an Academy sponsor/chain to hold to account.

    For me the tension lies in the decisions made about strategy towards outcomes. Whilst some use Ofsted as their guide I think things should ‘flip’ and it should be those that make the biggest difference, the students and teachers, that control the strategy. They should then be supported and developed by all the rest as listed.

    Posted by missdcox | June 14, 2014, 8:24 am
    • I wish you were attending one of the sessions Dawn, you’d be great at getting some fascinating conversations going. I’ve deliberately left “spaces” in what I’ve done so people at the sessions are invited in to co-construct the outcomes. The other posts in the mini series will hopefully do the same. Good luck with your new post.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | June 14, 2014, 12:18 pm
  2. There will always be an inherent tension between the public desire to know what is going on and the other forms of accountability that teachers naturally face – to themselves, their kids, the parents and so on.

    To solve this the public, represented by the government and OFSTED, need to accept that it is not healthy to be overbearing in any job. A more hands-off system – which doesn’t demand evidence of everything before accepting that teachers know what they are doing, and which places far less stress on arbitrary grades – would make a very positive difference.

    In return we as teachers have to accept that there will always need to be some oversight and that those overseeing us want the best for the kids we teach. This would of course require us believing that it was true.

    Posted by outstandingschool | June 14, 2014, 12:19 pm
  3. …it’s not as glib as it sounds, to ask that old question: ‘who are we accountable to?’ …and what do they want?

    Posted by Trigger | June 15, 2014, 7:57 pm


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