This morning, Sean Harford, an HMI, posted this question on Twitter.
This provoked a range of highly sensible replies including:
- @Mackers1969 “Government initiatives and OFSTED Framework changes can put you ‘back’ even when still moving forward.
- @kalinski1970 “Have less aggressive inspectors. Recogniser the career ending impact you have.”
- @kalinski1970 “Retrain inspectors on statistics and using Raise OnLine”
- @RachelOrr “Schools set their priorities for a long term plan and then government announced even more. Overload”
I have written two blog posts about our experience as a Head Teacher going through RI OFSTED inspections which ended up being so morose, and potentially sounding whiney, that I have never posted them.
When I took on the Headship, HMCI had brought in the RI judgement and had said that HeadsÂ would be given two years to turn a school round. He said that schools would receive the support of an HMI and there would be central training for schools. I agreed with all of this and took on a struggling school under that premise.
- We were inspected by a team a month after I took on the substantive Head. The team were of a low calibre and, at one point, the Lead Inspector and an AI had a full on row in front of members of the SLT.
- Foundation Stage was inspected by a Secondary MFL adviser who didn’t bring a coat and therefore didn’t observe any outdoor play.
- Staff didn’t feel that the inspection team was working with them and so felt it was a largely negative process.
We were given RI and, to be honest, this was a very fair judgement of where the school was at the time. It had been satisfactory for most of the previous 20 years and there was a large variation in the quality of teaching, lack of clear progression and we didn’t have sufficient time to demonstrate progress since I had arrived.
We were given support from an HMI as a school with 3 RI judgements and a 2 for Behaviour. He was someone who we thoroughly liked, he challenged us greatly on our first day together and we planned some very positive joint work.He offered us a re-inspection as late in the 2 years as possible to get as much improving data as possible. We focused on an inspection in late 2014 or early 2015.
He then went off ill.
We heard nothing from OFSTED and finally complained to our Senior HMI who appointed us another HMI.Â We spoke once but never met as she was coming from a long distance and it was difficult to put our Â east coast school into her diary.
The HMCI then changed the rules – the two year gap between OFSTED was removed and schools were given four terms, HMI support was removed from those schools with a 2 for leadership. To be blunt, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s promises were burnt on the altar of financial and logistical limitations.
I was speaking to our TAs and MSAs explaining that the rules had changed and that we were officially in our fourth term since the OFSTED but since the last one had been near the end of the Spring term, I couldn’t see one coming until the Autumn. The school administrator walked in to tell me Serco were on the phone….
This inspection was less than fourteen months since the previous Section 5 and I had taken over a school with “the worst Year 6 cohort in years” (according to many staff). To synthesise the inspection, I would say that, again, EYFS was inspected by someone without any Early years experience but the team was largely fair. The Lead Inspector didn’t have the guts to stand up to the Help Desk who seemed to obsess on our 56% Level 4+ combined scores from a cohort I had only had for months as a substantive Head. Every time we produced a good in our conversations she would disappear for a phone call and come back talking RI.
Finally, she informed me that she was going to give me a 3 for Leadership. This is in the context of a good judgement for EYFS and comments from inspectors about how good (and even outstanding) school leaders and governors were. I had the stereotypical hissy fit and was offered a way out. Change the SEF to agree with her judgement and she could judge my leadership as good because my self evaluation was robust.
We received an RI judgement with 2s for Leadership and Behaviour.
The report only has 5 negative comments in the 39 comments made. It reads like a good. It is better than other good reports. Our AFIs were largely based on those given by the LI to schools given 2 in other inspections. We felt stitched up and done over.
Rightly (thoughÂ probablyÂ in error) I did not fill in the evaluation of OFSTED which is offered to schools. I had no trust in OFSTED whatsoever and a phone call to our HMI struggled to get into school for a couple of months as I was so ripped apart by our experience. However, the way that everyone in school rallied around does demonstrate their judgement of Good leadership was secure.
I found myself after 15 months of substantive Headship with Sir Michael’s noose hanging over my head. One more RI inspection and I was out. The one positive that came out of it was a driving of our vision and moral purpose. I told staff that if we were going to go down then I wanted to do it doing everything we believed in. This meant that we have absolutely stuck to our guns and, as a result, have seen standards and quality of teaching rise.
So where does this leave me?
This is a long winded introduction to answering Sean’s question which I want to do because I agree with the RI judgement and expectation to get to good.
- Get into the Outstanding schools whose grades are based on middle class or aspirational familiesÂ and look more deeply and beyond the Raise Online. In many of them, many of the staff wouldn’t last a termÂ with our kids and ourÂ expectations. Being blunt, create a level playing field. I raise an eyebrow at the number of Outstanding schools in high house price areas full of middle class families in this area, particularly after looking in their books or watching lessons. I raise two eyebrows at the Outstanding judgements for Lincolnshire Grammar schools when I look at their progress scores and listen to parents and ex-pupils talking about their experiences.
- Maintain consistency of HMIs. We had a Senior HMI who engaged with schools in our area, speaking to staff, governors and providing training. He left for an academy chain taking several colleagues with him. It now feels a very lonely place to be an RI head in a rural area as we don’tÂ appear to have anyone local who knows the realities of life in our area.
- Maintain your OFSTED frameworks for specified times. I understand why they have to change but they have changed too often in recent years. My suggestion would be an expiry date for frameworks. i.e. The Framework for the 2015-16 academic year.
- Continue the purge of low level inspectors.
- HaveÂ Primary school inspections carried out by inspectors who have Primary school experienceÂ not ex-secondary heads of department.
- Once the inspections teams are of sufficient quality after the prospective changes, expect one member of the team to maintain a relationship with the school should they be given a 3 or 4 grade. Â This is expensive but had we been inspected by someone who was leading a Primary school, I could have maintained contact with them and learned from their school. Surely this is intelligent use of OFSTED as a school improvement agency.
- Be more geographically aware as an organisation and intervene early. Â I lead a school in an area where more than 50% of schools were Grade 3 in 2012. OFSTED didn’t come in to work with us but descended upon us to place us all in RI. Surely, it would have made sense to have run workshops for HeadsÂ when issues became clear. The Getting to Good seminars were well received but we only attendedÂ them as a result of our inspection.
- Look at the data for all year groups and for the most recent in-school judgements. If we were inspected next week, we would be judged largely on old data with the current year 6 scores only days away.
- Make a judgement on the school moderation of judgements. In my experience, RI and SM schools are really good at this and often use external support for verification.
- Have absolutely clarity in a ten minute read document about what it means to be the Head of a grade 3 or 4 school. (Again with an expiry date). Do not change the rules like you did in 2014.
- Offer support to Heads taking on an RI school from a choice of HMIs. This gives the Head a choice of who they work with, which is important if the process could cost them their job.
- Use this support to have greater control over the timing of inspections.
- Ensure that all public comments about RI and SM schools from the HMCI and Senior HMI are pre-tested against human beings who work in schools. Waking up at 6am to the Today programme quoting Sir Michael saying how mediocre RI schools areÂ or how vulnerableÂ RI heads’ jobs are don’t woo people to apply.
On another note, I would point out that Oustanding schools are really struggling to appoint in this area as well. Those who I know who are looking for Headship (a reducing group of people) are only looking at Goods as they have the least chance of blowing up in their face.
So Sean, I am sorry for the rambling or random nature of this post. I have done it before breakfast because I was really pleased to see your question. I do believe that Senior people in OFSTED do care and are trying to do the right thing. I also recognise that you are constantly undermined by politicians looking for the next Daily Mail headline. Please listen to the comments made by people on Twitter and in blogs and come back to us. Also talk to Heads of RI schools who don’t engage with Social Media (the vast majority don’t) Collate the answers and give us a view.
Engagement is the answer or no-one will trust you.