“Ofsted should not inspire us”

So said @steve_munby to a packed hall during the Inspiring Leadership conference last week in Birmingham. He went on to clarify that Ofsted are regulators and have a clear and important purpose in ensuring standards are met by schools but they should not dictate school development plans. That, implied Steve, is what Headteachers get paid for. The strategic direction and the overarching vision that drives a school forward should be the work of school professionals not school regulators.

I agree.


…before I attended the conference I was having a professional chin-wag with @PrimaryHead1 (and it was professional; we didn’t talk about game of thrones, vinyl or what he wanted as a leaving present from his school (he wants money, no gift, just money so he can update his ‘assembly book’ collection-I’ve never heard such nonsense. Trust me, Threshers will do very well that day)). Anyway, we were having a professional conversation and I was saying that what this country needs more than a no notice inspection is a system of education that considers itself RI.

Yes, I said it. Consider yourselves all requiring improvement.

Why do I say this? Not because I’m lonely being an RI head. Not because I’m jealous of all you good and outstanding swines. Not because I have a Govian mind-set that we’re all rubbish until we’ve proved that we’re not completely rubbish. Not because I’m not creative. Not because I’m negative. Not because I don’t think my teachers are good or that my pupils achieve.

No, I think this because sometimes being RI is great. It’s liberating. It focuses the mind and forces you to go back to basics:

  • Make sure the primary experience is brilliant.
  • Get the teaching of English and maths tip top.
  • Make topics fun and interesting.
  • Get children to love learning.
  • Show them that positive behaviour works and is easier than being an aggressive, rude little grumpy boots.
  • Help out the disadvantaged so they have a fighting chance in life.
  • Enable the staff to lead and enjoy the challenge of working hard.

See, easy. Nice and simple ain’t it.

The best thing is that when you’re RI you’re allowed to ignore stuff. Well, I don’t know if you’re actually allowed, but I have, on many occasion, ignored emails, hit delete, replied ‘no’ and told people to just leave me alone. I have freed myself from gubbins and trust me, it feels good.

If it isn’t on ofsted’s ‘what this school needs to do list’ I’m not interested. So far, I seem to be getting away with it too. More importantly, the school is improving and, in case you’re wondering, it’s a nice school to work at and it’s a lovely school to be educated in. We’re not boring. I’m not a SATS dragon. I just want to focus on great teaching, achievement and making the school a really, really, really good school.

Occasionally another head will ask me: how are you preparing for this or that. At this point I normally pop on my shades, put a matchstick between my teeth, smile and say ‘Don’t bother me Daddio, I’m RI’ then I hit the duke box and we all start jiving.

Imagine if we could all do that? British Values curriculum…behave, we’ve got children to teach. An Olympic legacy plan…um no, that’s just silly. Nonsense word phonic test…I think I’ll just get them to read normally thanks.

We wouldn’t have to put up with the reactionary nationwide initiatives that come about because something not good happened to one school somewhere in Britain and the government think the public expects them to make us all do something new so that it doesn’t happen to us. Being RI gives you the strength to pick and choose and be bloody minded – that isn’t going to help raise my standards so I’m not going to do it, sorry.

So my SDP is gleefully littered with Ofsted inspiration. What would Steve say? What will I do when we get judged ‘good’? I don’t know. And that’s why Steve Munby’s speech has made me think. At the moment I am using Ofsted; they are my weapon for getting the school where I want it. What happens when I get there is another issue. I will no longer be able to hide; I’ll have to join in with all the other schools and do as I’m told. More importantly, I’ll have to think for myself and come up with some grand vision for the school that, at the moment, is mysteriously out of my reach.

Hey, maybe I’ll have greater capacity to improve so I can bolt these initiatives and expectations onto my SDP and it will be fine…or maybe that will cause me to take my eye off the ball: I’ve failed to make floor targets but on the other hand the school does now have a solar panel roof.

I want to have grand visions. I want to create a school that is a shining example of 21st century education. I want to go to outstanding and beyond. But I’m scared. I’m scared that just wanting a really good primary school isn’t good enough, and soon I’ll be powerless to stop myself from getting overblown and overstretched.

So please, can we all decide to be RI and get on with teaching and learning? (Sorry Steve)

2 thoughts on ““Ofsted should not inspire us”

  1. Lesley Tapsell July 5, 2014 / 2:10 am

    What a liberating and refreshing viewpoint and bravely said. It’s now just a year since my school achieved ‘good’ and despite the promises to self and others to keep the momentum going ever onwards to outstanding, it is in reality, almost impossible. The incentive is not the same; the need not to RI is greater that the desire for amazing, especially in a small rural school with fluctuating cohort sizes and inconsistent results. We just want to make sure these children have the most rounded and motivating experience of what it is to learn and enjoy being a learner in their formative years. Being RI did keep us focused on achieving this within our ethos and values, but also by opting out of some of those ‘distractions’.

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