On Not Ignoring Ofsted

This month my column in the Guardian Education looks at Ofsted and the problem of being a teacher trying to meet  standards when they seem to be constantly shifting. Writing about Ofsted when you’ve never been a headteacher is a little tricky, as I didn”t want to downplay the nightmares leaders say they go through, but the intention was explaining the classroom teacher experience. Hopefully I achieved that.

However, one line caused some consternation:

Ignoring Ofsted is not an option, and neither should it be.

Some people got upset at me saying this because they think teachers should ignore Ofsted and focus on the students. That’s fair comment, if you think I’m saying teachers should only think about Ofsted, but that was not my original intention. Actually, the original sentence was longer but because the piece goes in the physical paper I am constrained by a word limit so the line was eventually trimmed which maybe meant I sounded more curt than planned. Before cutting, the full sentence read as:

Ignoring Ofsted is not an option, and neither should it be. When you are a pupil stuck in an awful school you would rather have an imperfect system for externally checking teaching quality than not have one at all.

Having studied at a school on the decline we prayed Ofsted would come and see its real light, and I’m grateful that they did. Floating on without inspection is not good for pupils who need someone to see the mess a place is in and stick up for them. This is particularly true in communities where parents are unaware of what should be offered by the school and who don’t have the skills to advocate for better. That’s why I believe ignoring Ofsted is not an option. But I also believe that the scrutiny of teachers that Ofsted undertake must clear, shared widely in advance and contribute to professionalism rather than anxiety. As yet, there is too much of the latter over the former, and with just a little effort it could be sorted. This is not a terminal case.

[NB: I was very grateful to the people who did point this stuff out to me. The only way those columns will stay fresh is if people help me learn about their responses to them].

4 thoughts on “On Not Ignoring Ofsted

  1. Not that we should ‘ignore’ them, Laura, but that it simply shouldn’t matter. Yes, I know how high the stakes are for head teachers, but that’s as much to do with forced academisation as it is to do with what they would really like to do.

    Once we start doing things ‘because Ofsted say so’ rather than ‘because it’s best for the children’ then we have basically lost all faith in our own professional judgement.

    I would also like to start a movement in education that says ‘good enough is good enough’ when it comes to Ofsted results. In fact, I would prefer a system that says a school is either okay, or it isn’t. I don’t think pitting school against school is a useful way to improve the system.

    The more we comply and play the game, the worse the game will get.

    I did enjoy your article though and I can totally see why you think as you do.

    1. Thanks for the engagement on this Sue. Think we’re mostly in agreement. I remember you saying about pass/fail and when I sat down to write this it was in the list of things I thought about mentioning. On the one hand I agree with it, but on the other I worry it would mean people only trying to meet a minimum. While it would be great to feel that if left to their own devices everyone would still push onward and upward, but the nature of humans is that while some will do this others won’t and I think it’s important to have something external driving people upward. For now, it is Ofsted. Am happy to hear alternative ways of encouraging this.

      I’m not convinced that the “more we comply” the worse things inevitably get. We might decide that Ofsted should simply butt out of teaching styles. I’m happy with that. If they are going to do that though they need to butt out properly, clearly and make this point whenever Gove says things about teacher messages. What is unacceptable is to *say* you don’t mind what teaching methods people use and then write reports suggesting otherwise.

  2. You can do something because you are genuinely motivated to do it (hard to achieve but hugely valuable). Or you can do something because you are scared of what happens if you don’t.

    If we truly want to create intrinsic motivation in teachers then we need to have a system that supports and acknowledges their ideas and values at least some innovation and risk taking, rather than compliance.

    If we’re just after an efficient system that checks for compliance, rather than a set of intrinsically motivated people then I guess Ofsted makes sense.

    Perhaps it’s a pipe dream to say it shouldn’t matter but basically it shouldn’t.

    I agree with you on their mixed messages though, totally. If we’re going to have to game the system, it’s only fair if we know the rules.

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