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Why it’s Great that Outstanding Schools will no Longer be Exempt from Ofsted Inspections

What’s that noise? Only screams from the heads of outstanding schools since Ofsted declared they are no longer exempt from routine inspections...

  • Why it’s Great that Outstanding Schools will no Longer be Exempt from Ofsted Inspections

Did you know that headteachers have their own particular circadian rhythm? For most humans, the circadian rhythm – that internal process that regulates their sleep-wake cycle – repeats every 24 hours. The headteachers’ rhythm however, beats to a different drum: Ofsted.

Take the head of a ‘good’ school, for example. Their cycle lasts about four years.

For the first year they exist in a state of sublime bliss, bathed in the warm glow of a ‘good’ judgement.

During this first year, they stop contributing to the school newsletter, rarely update the website and unsubscribe from any Ofsted updates on their twitter feed.

As year two rolls on, they begin a process of denial. Refusing to acknowledge the passing of time and convincing themselves that their next inspection is still light years away.

It is only by the third year that it begins to dawn on them that they are now worryingly out of step with the latest educational trends.

They search all of their files, desperately trying to locate that school development plan they haven’t updated since goodness knows when.

Throughout the fourth year, they become a paranoid, twitching mess, jumping every time the phone rings until, at last, the day comes and their cycle is reset for, hopefully, another four years.

If you’re the head of an RI school it’s slightly different. Your body clock works on an 18-month cycle.

A jolly time of permanently feeling like you’re running down an upwardly moving escalator when you’re already late for a train.

It’s like trying to do all your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve, when you can’t tell if the thing you’ve just put in your basket is ‘just perfect’ or the worst gift ever.

Will Ofsted like the shiny new curriculum you’ve wrapped up for them or will they tell you that they hope you’ve kept the receipt? Of course, if they do decide to place you in special measures, that’ll be a whole different life-cycle to endure.

But what about those heads of outstanding schools? Well, their internal rhythm lasts, oh, I don’t know, 10 years? 12? 20? 50? A million? They get a lifetime of peace and relaxation, safe in the knowledge that Ofsted will never darken their door again. That’s the real reason heads long for an outstanding judgement.

Not because it’s a validation that their school is amazing, but because it means they’ll no longer have that anxiety dream when Ofsted arrive at your school the day you forgot to put your trousers on.

To be an outstanding head is to live a life of luxury. They can do whatever they want in their schools. They can ignore every directive from the DfE if they want because, hey, who’s going to check? Ofsted certainly won’t… until now!

I was up early the day Ofsted declared that outstanding schools were no longer exempt from routine inspections.

I was in the park doing my sunrise morning yoga meditation exercises (from the app that my governors insisted I install to support my wellness) when all of a sudden the silence was broken by a thousand blood-curdling screams.

I knew immediately that I had just bore witness to a cosmic realignment of collective circadian cycles.

The scream was from every outstanding headteacher who had suddenly realised they quickly needed to get to grips with… British values, life after levels, greater depth, fluency, something called ‘intent, implementation and impact’ and anything else that has happened in education since 1992.

About time, if you ask me.

I’ve always said that it was highly unfair that, if you are an RI head, you are expected to know about, and be implementing, everything that is currently in the inspection handbook, whereas outstanding schools get to set their own timescales safe in the knowledge that they’re not staring down the barrel of a section 5.

That has never been fair.

And, not only should outstanding schools always have been inspected more frequently but they should also be subject to a far more robust and wider scoped inspection than other schools.

Yes, it should always be hard to achieve an outstanding judgement but it should be even harder to maintain it.

So, as you can tell, I welcome the recent changes and I hope those headteachers embrace their new circadian rhythm. It may be a shock to their system but, judging by the number of outstanding schools that have already been inspected and lost their outstanding status, I’m sure they’ll get used to it.


The writer is the headteacher of a UK primary school. Find them at theprimaryhead.com and follow them on Twitter at @theprimaryhead.

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