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Ofsted is Deluded if it Thinks it is a Force for School Improvement

It’s strong leaders that help schools get better, and it’s worrying that Ofsted thinks otherwise, says Ryan Duff

  • Ofsted is Deluded if it Thinks it is a Force for School Improvement

A recent statement tweeted by Ofsted said it existed to be a ‘force for improvement’. It is, of course, deluded.

The wording itself is not the friendliest either: ‘a force’? Maybe Amanda Spielman is a fan of Star Wars, but the Force certainly isn’t with Ofsted.

Strong leaders improve schools – strong leaders made accountable by an effective governing body or academy trust. It is quite worrying that Ofsted genuinely thinks it improves schools.

Does the Football Association improve the way football teams play? No, the difference being it doesn’t claim to. It is self-importance – grandeur – on an unprecedented scale.

Ofsted has a framework and judges schools against this framework. That’s all. It’s the judge and, in most cases, jury, during inspections. It is a regulatory body, not a force for improvement.

Schools that have historically failed don’t improve because Ofsted writes a report. If only it was that simple. These schools have improved because strong leaders ensured that they did.

In the cases where schools haven’t got better, this is because underperforming governing bodies, academy trusts or local authorities haven’t taken decisive action to intervene.

When Ofsted revisits and finds the school is still failing, producing another report only puts this in writing. It doesn’t increase the likelihood it will improve. No instruction manual is left, and setting targets alone is meaningless.

My bathroom scales don’t help me to lose weight. They don’t make me exercise or eat more healthily. They just report the pounds.

Having had a recent inspection in which we were graded ‘outstanding’, you may think I would be full of praise for a framework that has seen my school move from being ‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’ within one Ofsted cycle.

You may think I would sit quietly, keeping my head below the parapet. But, having been on this journey, I can speak with recent experience, sound judgement and informed opinions.

At the moment, everyone with internet access has an opinion. The quality assurance behind this is a different matter though. Just because someone has thousands or even millions of social media followers, it doesn’t make their comments valid, relevant or even truthful.

The president of the free world has over 42 million followers on Twitter; does that mean his 280 characters of thoughts are worth listening to? 

How many Ofsted inspectors have actually improved their own school? I would like to see any research Ofsted has carried out showing the percentage of current inspectors that have moved their school on at least one Ofsted category, but I am guessing such research doesn’t exist.

Additionally, how many inspectors have taken schools out of special measures or, under their leadership, managed to achieve ‘outstanding’ status?

Sean Harford is doing his best to be the voice of Ofsted and is constantly tweeting about ‘myths’, but he faces questions on a regular basis from people with their own stories.

Unfortunately, Ofsted is still not consistent in its approach but, to continue the football analogy, nor are all referees.

Let’s also not forget that Amanda Spielman’s original nomination for chief inspector was rejected by the Education Select Committee which expressed concerns about her suitability, citing her lack of teaching experience and her failure to show ‘passion’ and understanding of the ‘complex role’.

She has never been a teacher, let alone a headteacher. She has never been an Ofsted inspector, yet is now the chief inspector.

Similarly, if I was ever to leave my current role, it would be to become the next manager of Arsenal football team. The experience I have for this role? I am a fully qualified football referee and scored a goal in the 1980 Cubs Cup Final, which my team still lost.

The perfect credentials for when Arsene Wenger hangs up his boots, I think you’ll agree.
That said, I am reserving judgement on Amanda Spielman in the hope she makes the reforms so desperately needed.

The current framework makes it extremely difficult for schools in challenging areas to achieve ‘outstanding’ and Ofsted is certainly not improving their chances of reaching that pinnacle outcome.

Ofsted seems lost. It is not a force for improvement and, I would go as far as to say, it is no longer fit for purpose. A major and radical reform needs to happen.

Sean Harford may be doing his utmost with endless tweets, but unless Ofsted knows the offside rule, it is never going to win.

Ryan Duff (@heliheadteacher) is the headteacher of Larchwood Primary in Brentwood, Essex.

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