This is my opening speech at the Headteacher’s Roundtable Summit 2020:
It helps every now and again to step back and take a long view.
At the start of the last decade, the “enemies of promise” were under attack. The “soft bigotry of low expectation”, for our most disadvantaged children, became a mantra and driver of change. Sadly, our most disadvantaged children – those in long term, deep poverty – are now performing worse than they did a decade ago. School leaders with the experience of working in these areas understand the need to connect education with other services that support children and families. Austerity hit the poorest the hardest; shrinking school budgets left many without the resources needed to teach, educate, support and safeguard effectively and adequately. Funding needs to be based on sufficiency; it’s the prerequisite of fairness and next year’s school budget numbers don’t add up.
As we start the roaring 20s we see an increasingly isolated inspectorate. The one size fits all SW1 approach to curriculum had a limited perspective on paper and is proving disastrous for too many of our schools and colleagues in its implementation. Cultural transmission must sit in tension with the personal empowerment of our children and young people – building their agency – and seek to develop deep social justice not just perpetuate the inequalities of our current and past societies.
David Lammy MP tells the powerful story of Khadeja Saye, a British Gambian woman. Yesterday I actually had the pleasure of meeting Andrew O’Neill who is the Headteacher of All Saints, the secondary school Khadeja went to; it sits in the shadow of Grenfell Towers. Khadeja was 24 years old, a photographer with a growing reputation and a resident on the 16th floor of Grenfell Towers. On that fateful night, like many other residents, she was told to stay in her flat and she stayed as the fires took hold and sadly took her life. Like many people particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, if someone in a suit or uniform tells you to do something you do it. Would you have stayed put that night or simply walked out to safety with your families and loved ones?
This lack of agency, many of our children and young people experience, needs to be addressed; it is one of the reasons many of us came into education. But this lack of agency has also hit our profession. Agency and purpose matter in our lives; it is at the core of why we are failing to retain teachers and school leaders.
So today, we seek your agency to act collectively in what we see as a quiet revolution. High stakes, cliff-edged pernicious accountability has long since served its purpose; put simply inspection is so last decade. The damage it does now far out way any supposed benefits. The role of a regulator needs to be rethought and we need to find better more sustainable ways to help improve the education of all children including those in the most deprived areas.
Our call is a simple one; to all those people employed in or by schools who act as Additional Inspectors it is time to stop inspecting. Now is the time to #PauseOfsted. Working together we can reshape the current accountability to better serve the needs of teachers, school leaders and ultimately children, young people and their families. Please share the article and your thoughts on line but also take it back to your local Headteacher Associations, your Governor Forums and Parent Groups for discussion but most importantly action. It’s no good persistently complaining about something, sometimes you have to act.
There will be some who will want to label this suggestion as irresponsible. But we are response-able and are called to act ethically. To school based employees who act as inspectors and their employers: to what extent are you doing good when inspecting and grading other schools (this is the call to beneficence)? To what extent can you claim not to be doing harm when school leaders and teachers serving our most needy communities are being forced or choosing to leave their jobs, in ever increasing numbers, due to the current accountability system (there is a requirement for non-maleficence)? To what extent are your actions just?
Whether it’s the leaders of Harris, Outwood and Inspiration Trusts deciding to withdraw all their staff currently working as inspectors; or the leaders of our professional associations and unions bringing forward action that leads to no school based employees being involved in inspection or an unprecedented grass roots movement – an Education Spring, if you like – school leaders looking in the mirror and questioning themselves about whether they will continue to carry out Ofsted inspections. If they collectively answered, “no” and made themselves unavailable for any further inspections the system would be forced to radically change.
This is our decade to write; our words must be heard, our actions sung into being.
We would be delighted if you gave consideration to joining our quiet revolution.
Here are HTRT’s suggestions for reforming accountability in out 2019 General Election Manifesto stated:
Parents trust school leaders, teachers and the support staff to do the best for their children. Politicians must also show this high level of trust and reform the high stakes accountability system which is damaging our schools.
The new Government must commit to a long term extensive review of the accountability system and remove all aspects which are damaging to or have a perverse impact on schools and the quality of education offered.
There should be fundamental reform of Ofsted to ensure it has a much greater focus on regulation of illegal and unregistered schools and inappropriate providers.
The current invalid and unreliable grading of schools which is driving workload and great teachers and school leaders out of the profession must stop.
Inspection of schools should be replaced by peer review and evaluation with a trained HMI on every team, to ensure the integrity and rigour of the process.
In 2016, we called for Safeguarding provision to be part of a regular audit process for schools and schools in the most disadvantaged communities to be supported with a ten year cross departmental programme – health, social services, police, housing, economic regeneration.
The original piece reported by Schools Week can be found here and a great follow up blog by Ros McMullen here
All power to you in this.
Whatever its intent, in practice the latest Ofsted system is intellectually derelict and highly damaging to our schools, their staff and students. Its judgements are neither reliable nor valid, in that they are not accurate in assessing quality of experience and achievement and they are inconsistent.
All the rhetoric that surrounded its introduction about valuing genuine quality and not imposing any particular curriculum model is a sham. The Chief is deluding herself.. How do I know?
As a retired head of 20 years in highly successful urban schools, I recently supported a new and highly gifted head teacher of a wonderful school in an urban area in the North, visited by Ofsted the first week in November of her first term (why?). The school consistently shows progress and attainment well above national, with a student intake that is only just average in prior attainment. Vulnerable students are beautifully supported, with much narrower gaps than seen nationally for disadvantaged students, and the range of extra curricular activities, visits and enrichment in arts, culture and sports is outstanding. Having provided external professional support to this school for several years, I can verify that there is a happy, productive ethos throughout the school. Staff and students show respect and appreciation for each other and for the support they receive from school leaders. Parent comments on the Ofsted Parent View are overwhelmingly positive and glowing. Thus, was a shock to have an urgent call from the LA at the end of the first day, to hear that the head had been told by the lead inspector that the school was likely to be graded Inadequate because the curriculum st KS 3 did not cover the full National Curriculum, rendering Leadership automatically Inadequate.
I met governors and the head that evening and we put together a powerful response illuminating the real quality for students of learning and growing at this school. I was in school all of day two boosting heartbroken staff and governors, coaching them to remember all the great stuff they do and rallying the arguments. Governor reps and I met the lead inspector and had a surreal experience: e.g. a fragment –
Us “Have you reviewed quality of learning in relation to student outcomes and progress at every level?”
Inspector “No, that was the old framework. We don’t look at data anymore.”
Us “So you completely disregard whether students achieve well and progress successfully from this school?”
Inspector “Yes. The big problem for students here is that they do not cover the full KS 3 curriculum by the end of Y8 and study 3 Shakespeare plays or have 2 Geography field studies at Key Stage 3.”
And so it continued. There was a distinct ignorance from the inspector of what a discerning evaluator would recognise as high quality learning. When pressed, she stated variously that the the school is “happy and safe, expectations are high, teachers are skilled and ambitious, students articulate and behaviour very positive” I noted all of these. However, the “BUT” kept coming and she stated unequivocally at one point, “You must follow the full Key Stage 3 curriculum.” Adding, unhelpfully “and you do in many subjects, but not all.”
It was depressingly a ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’ literal interpretation of her training.
We fought every point vigorously and made her listen. The head, SLT and staff wore themselves out all day blitzing her with evidence.
Finally she agreed to take advice from her senior at Ofsted.
The feedback by the end of the day was a judgement of Good, but having to apply some hitherto unheard of “transition statements” pretty well threatening the school that they must cover the full KS3 curriculum to the letter.
It was an absurd, unnecessarily stressful and dispiriting experience for this superb school team of staff and governors.
A less confident or supported school might well have have been left unjustly with a much worse outcome.
Ms Speilman conveyed positive visions in her presentations during the consultation, that the changes “allow teachers and leaders to focus more of their time on the real substance of education.. and should reward leaders who are ambitious for their pupils rather than those who jump through hoops.” (11th Oct 2018). Empirically, this school and many others being reported, experienced the opposite: a hectoring tone and undermining presence from an inspector for whom there was only one way-hers – and who only grudgingly, and when heavily pressed, caved in and acknowledged the very deep and real strengths of this school.
We’re hearing the same kind of thing from school leaders, time and time again. Thanks for taking the time to add this extensive comment
I fully support you on this. Thank you. Ofsted has to be removed and replaced with a more supportive system as exists in Canada where accountability is about ‘answerability and responsibility’ rather than ‘culpability and liability’ to quote Lucy Crehan’s ‘Cleverlands’. Policy makers have to grasp the simple fact that school improvement is complex inextricably linked with social services, NHS, housing and takes time. Context means that there can never be a one-size fits all approach. What I still find particularly unacceptable is the unnecessary damage that is done to many school leaders, especially those working in the most challenging circumstances. The story above resonates sadly with too many stories of heads and senior leaders I know as well as my own experiences. Working as a deputy in an alternative provision for excluded children in a challenging community context, I was proud of the work all of us did to try to rebuild our young people’s lives – help them believe that they could learn and have a positive future. Young people, who through no fault of their own were born into dysfunctional, neglectful or abusive families were constantly in survival mode: fight or flight or numb. They had learned not to trust adults. We worked hard with each student to understand their specific needs, worked with their families, personalised the curriculum for them so they could transition to education, training or employment post 16. The fact that we managed this for 97% of Y11 was ignored when we had our DfE monitoring visit. The language was aggressive, pugilistic from the moment the adviser entered our doors. There was no listening. No desire to hear case studies. The inspectors were not interested. We were RI at best. I felt my professional integrity fall away. Yes, I allowed such abuse of power to affect me and allowed events to define me. What would have been really helpful at that time was someone to come and support us and help us construct solutions. Interesting how the initial monitoring visits had assessed as ‘good’ and that the. latter visits resulted in being taken over by a MAT … I am not for a moment suggesting that there weren’t areas of our practice that needed improving; even when outstanding judgments are made, there is room for improvement, however, abusing those professionals that choose to work in the most challenging environments to support children and young people that have been failed by all around is immoral. Who will hold to account those that hold us to account? If the government want are serious about recruitment and retention then removing Ofsted will make a significant difference.
I’m sorry to hear your story, Sheila. Thank you for sharing and adding to the blog.