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Leadership, OFSTED, Redesigning Schools

Beyond Inspection: Building the Case for Peer Review

If you are looking at improving quality then the theories and teachings of W Edwards Deming are a very good starting point.  His belief in “continual improvement” changed the way people thought about quality, management and leadership. 

Fourteen Points & Seven Deadly Sins

The Deming Institute website provides his fourteen points for the transformation of management and the associated seven deadly diseases of management.  I’ve reworked his seven deadly diseases to suggest what we should steer well clear of as we seek to make our schools more effective:

Based on Deming's Seven Deadly Diseases of Management

Based on Deming’s Seven Deadly Diseases of Management

The problem is that a lot of Deming’s deadly diseases pretty much sum up the current culture in the English Education system and many of its schools.

“The strategy, Fullan says, pays little or no attention to developing the capacity of leaders and teachers to improve together or as a system; it is based on a failed theory that teacher quality can be increased by a system of competitive rewards, and it rests on a badly flawed model of management where everyone manages their own unit, is accountable for results, and competes with their peers – creating fiefdoms, silos, and lack of capacity or incentives for professionals to help one another.”

Sahlberg, P. (2015) Finnish Lessons 2.0 p. xiv

So, what we should do to improve our schools?  The following is my adaptation of Deming’s fourteen points for the transformation of management:

Improving School Do

Based on Deming’s Fourteen Points for the Transformation of Management


“In the Third Way, capacity building is about training for policy delivery.  In the Fourth Way of inspiration, innovation and collective responsibility … capacity building is more about self-directed growth and development.  In short and to be very clear: The Third Way is about renting and delivering the policies of others, while the Fourth Way is about shared ownership of a community’s compelling purpose.”

Sahlberg, P. (2015) Finnish Lessons 2.0 p. xvi

Inspection and Ofsted are forever wedded to the Third Way thinking, they are enforcers of other people’s policies or their own ideas on schools.  Inspection will not take us forward, if it ever did.  However, the potential to develop a peer review and accountability system has real potential when you look at it alongside the ideas for transformational leadership and management.

Ofsted: Inspector or Improver?

Steve Mumby in a recent article argued that you cannot be an inspector and an improver.  Maybe and maybe not, I think there is a tension but if we can only afford one it is improver every time for me.  I mean affording at both a practical and philosophical level.  I seem to be far less convinced than others that Ofsted won’t be subject to efficiency saving, read a cut in budget, which will significantly limit what it can do.  Many seem to find the thought of  life after Ofsted inconceivable.  I accept it has future proofed itself to a certain extent with the new short inspection process and the use of current head teachers to support inspections but I believe its budget will be cut.  Leaving aside the pounds and pence, I am absolutely convinced that we cannot continue to build our accountability system on low trust of the profession, high stakes reports that have no measure of validity or reliability and unbalanced power dynamics.

The question is do we still need Ofsted?  For me it is a simple no.  As a brand it is utterly tainted and is causing collateral damage to HMI by association.  There is however a need for the best HMI to be retained as any peer review accountability system must be open to external challenge and validation, if not it can just become too cosy.  We need to keep asking ourselves the difficult and challenging questions which will help expose the next steps on our improvement journeyIn this relationship HMI’s authority comes from their ability to influence not their power to make judgements.  This is what happens when you want to lead at a system level, you have to put control to one side and in order to lead.

Moving from Inspection Focussed to Improvement Focussed

Improvement through inspection might be a catchy sound bite but it begs the questions: does inspection actually lead to improvement; if “yes” under what conditions and is inspection an efficient way to in improve education or are there alternatives means with greater efficacy?  Much of what is stated below is equally valid for a school’s internal self-evaluation and review system & processes.

Nelson & Ehren (quoted in L3xiphile, 2015) looked at the effect of inspection on school improvement focussing on four characteristics of impact: acceptance, feedback, support for improvement and leadership.


Photo Credit: Cymcards.co.uk

Photo Credit: Cymcards.co.uk

The issue of acceptance is both an emotional and a rational one.  It is linked to the question of validity which simply won’t go away for Ofsted.  Their four point inspection scale is nonsense.  There comes a point at which we’ve got to stop aspiring to Ofsted “outstanding” as it may not actually count for that much in terms of a school’s effectiveness (sorry if you’ve just been graded outstanding by Ofsted).

There comes a point at which you have to say the “emperor has no clothes on.”  I’m far more likely to accept feedback, particularly if it is critical, from a peer who will be responsible for supporting me in addressing the issues than a person or team who drifts in to the school never to be seen again.

I smile, I nod and I wave the inspectors goodbye (I’ve even gone to the extremes of pushing an inspector’s car off the grass where it got stuck on one occasion) and then get on with the real job of improving the school.


Evidence suggests that inspection may be beneficial if schools are given feedback around what to improve as well as how to improve.  The giving of grades at the same time of formative feedback would rightly be frowned on by an inspector but is ironically the basis of the last twenty plus years of inspection reports.  This will stop for many schools following September 2015 but it should stop for all schools, if we want feedback to lead to school improvement.  It is the whole system that we want to be effective not just some parts of it or even the majority, all of it so that every child is in a school providing an effective education.

SH&ST - Methodology

Support for Improvement & Leadership

Following on from feedback is the support needed on the improvement journey.  Inspectors are now linked to schools that require improvement and make periodic visits to schools graded inadequate.   Don’t all schools require improvement?  Anyone out there reached perfection yet?  This isn’t the level of support required.  Ofsted simply isn’t big enough to provide the support required nor is it desirable for it to be.  It is likely to see less financial resource not more over the coming Parliament.  This is where validated peer review with associated peer support provides the capacity for school improvement to become a system wide approach.

The challenge for leaders is to use the feedback from an inspection and integrate it with the school’s own improvement journey.  Where there is no link or a lack of congruence, acceptance or feedback without a grade this is unlikely.  The bigger question is whether inspection has run its course and we would be better investing the time and resources of schools with an alternative to Ofsted, consisting of the best of HMIs, in an externally validated system of peer review, support and improvement.

Step Forward HeadsRoundTable

HeadsRoundTable have recently released their five policy papers for the 2015 General Election including one on Intelligent Accountability.  It calls for a re-engineering of the current after the event inspection process in favour of a peer review system validated by HMI.  The first 100 days of the next Parliament should see the following urgently implemented:

Acknowledgement: HeadsRoundTable Intelligent Accountability Paper

Acknowledgement: HeadsRoundTable Intelligent Accountability Paper

Other Related Blog Posts:

What’s Beyond the Ofsted Inspection Jungle?

Ofsted’s Dead: Long Live Peer Review (To Be Published Shortly)


European Commission Life Long Learning Programme (2014) The Impact of School Inspections


L3xiphile (2015) The Case for Ofsted; is there one?


Sahlberg, P. (2015). Finnish Lessons 2.0. New York: Teachers College Press.




  1. Pingback: Ofsted’s Dead: Long Live Peer Review | @LeadingLearner - March 7, 2015

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