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.