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If Schools Cared Less About Ofsted And More About Teachers’ Opinions We’d Be Better Off

Snapshot judgements are nothing compared to the opinions of those you work with daily

The Primary Head
by The Primary Head
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I am becoming increasingly convinced that any form of judgement in education is a waste of time, energy and quite often, emotions.

It’s been some time since I’ve judged teachers’ lessons and I think the value of observations has increased as a result. It took a while. At first there remained a hardcore group of teachers who demanded to know what ‘grade’ I would have given their lesson – if I was still in the business of handing out stickers. But in time, everyone gradually listened to what I was saying, joined in the conversation and had a go at trying things that might make a difference.

Often we only learn to appreciate what we’ve got once it’s gone. In a similar way, there are times that we can’t see the foolishness of what we’re doing until we eventually stop doing it – binge drinking, smoking, paying by cheque and, yes, grading lessons. Not being able to remember your evening is not a sign that you had a good time; you don’t look cool hacking up part of your lung after running for the bus; you can’t pretend you have more money because it takes seven days for the money to clear; and you are not an outstanding teacher because one lesson went very well.

A wealth of information about the quality of your teaching opens up when we stop grading lessons. More importantly, time is on your side. Your sense of pride is not hanging on a 60-minute observation. It is forged in the messy day-by-day struggle of trying to educate and support children in an increasingly complex world. And, as an observer, I can join you in that struggle and talk to you about what’s going well and what can be done differently.

After time passes we can stand, shoulder to shoulder, and say ‘Job well done…what’s next?’ You won’t need a badge because you’ll have my respect, the respect of others and a huge dollop of self-respect to keep you going when things get tougher.

Because that too is key. Things change. How often is your ‘best lesson ever’ followed by a total nightmare, where everything goes wrong? Without ridiculous rubber stamps flying around all over the place, we can all have terrible days, and then move on without feeling we’ve lost our professional respect. We can respond. We can ask for help. We can show our vulnerable side and become stronger for it.

This is not only the case for teachers, it is true of entire schools. How many have chased an Ofsted judgement? How many development plans have fixated on what three inspectors decided after less than 48 hours in the building? I don’t know the official number, but I’m willing to suggest it’s far too many. Not because the inspectors have identified something valid (though that can happen) but because the school wants to show willing so they can move one notch up the flagpole.

And why? What does it actually prove? Please bear in mind that I have been the head of an RI school. I know the pressures that brings; constantly having to prove you’ve made an impact, lest the hounds of hell be released. I’ve also been awarded good with outstanding. But again, what does that really mean? In my world, not a lot.

Because schools are always changing. A ringing endorsement from Ofsted, although a perfectly good reason for a shindig, is not a lifetime guarantee. The idea that once you’ve got ‘good’ everything will be peachy is as much a fantasy as a teacher in my school believing themselves to be outstanding because I liked one of their lessons.

An Ofsted judgement can be damaging if it is incorrect – or the only thing a school values. Judgement chasers take their eye off the needs of those people around them and fixate on creating an acceptable version of their school for someone who doesn’t know it.

The only judgement that matters comes from those that inhabit your school every day. If they believe you can focus on what’s right, react to a situation sensibly and care about the job you do, they’ll follow you every step of the way – whatever journey you’re taking them on. This is true of leaders and teachers. Just make sure you don’t get tricked into believing your own hype.

The Primary Head is the moniker of a headteacher currently working in a UK primary school. Follow him on Twitter: @theprimaryhead

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