Letting go

Mr Rochester
“I am no bird: and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” Jane Eyre to Mr Rochester

 

 

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you’re looking for ransom I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills that I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you go now that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you…and I will blog.

Liam Neeson in Taken 4 (probably)

I have moved on. In short, earlier this year my school suffered a terrible Ofsted. At the helm was a bull-headed and bullying lead inspector who steered her team and drove forward, regardless of any evidence, a judgement that was as inaccurate as it was cruel. We fought it. The report was overturned and re-written. I complained. Numerous aspects of my complaint were upheld. That felt like closure. My school remained afloat and moving forward, but I was left feeling battered and bruised, to the point that I’ll happily take issue with any teacher who claims leaders are not on the ‘front line’ of education.

I have moved on but I can’t let go. I think the reason is because this lead inspector is a practising Head Teacher. I just can’t get my head around that. Why would a fellow Head go into a school that had improved so much over the last two years and seek to destroy it? Why would a fellow Head seem hell-bent on opposing the views of HMI, the local authority, the parents, the school itself and the fact that levels of achievement, for all children, had risen year on year? I just couldn’t understand why another professional wouldn’t play fair, favouring instead to discredit the achievements of a whole school and belittle the school in front of its community.

Like an itch you just have to scratch, I began to research her school. I wanted to know what her school was like. It must be something pretty special in order for her to have the chutzpah to give my moderately successful school such a ticking off. I was rather surprised, therefore, to see that achievement in her school had been steadily declining for the last three years, with the 2014 results hitting an all-time low of 64% of pupils achieving Level 4 in reading, writing and maths. When looking at the socio-economic context of her school, I learned that it is situated in a highly disadvantaged area, unlike mine, but our value added scores for 2014 were identical: 99.5 – both of our scores having dipped from the year before (hers for reading, mine for maths). And so, when I saw that she had been visited by Ofsted two months after me, I wondered if her team had been as unforgiving of her as she had of me.

Apparently not.

Her report came out as good, with outstanding features. And, as far as I can tell from comparing our two reports, there had been some pretty conflicting messages communicated during our two inspections. Whereas she had clearly told me that because only 87% of pupils made expected progress in maths, we should consider ourselves inadequate; her team judged her dip, resulting in 85% of pupils making expected progress in reading, to be nothing more than a blip. Whereas her team then went on to judge her leadership to be outstanding because she knew about the dip and promised that it would never happen again, she categorically told me that I was inadequate for letting it happen in the first place and ‘over-optimistic’ and clueless because I suggested that it wasn’t going to happen again. Whereas her team praised her internal data that showed things were improving, she discredited mine, claiming it was bogus and that my predictions were ludicrously inflated.

Now I know that inspections are not based on data alone and that maybe during her inspection she showed that she was a highly effective leader, whereas I apparently showed myself to be a…what was it she called me? A man with his ‘head in the clouds’. Maybe in 2015 she would be proved right, justifying the praise and adoration outlined in her Ofsted report. But imagine my surprise when I clicked on this year’s performance tables and saw that her reading progress had, well, not exactly swelled, from 85% to 87%. Not only that, but her value added score has fallen to 98.1. As I say, I know it’s not all about the data, but doesn’t this contradict Ofsted’s judgement of her leadership? Does this not mean that her promises to rectify her ineffectiveness to raise standards of reading have ended up sounding rather hollow?

What will Ofsted do now? Will they return and question her as to how this happened on her watch? Again.

I know they will visit me again. I know that they will return to question this Head who has, according to the last report, ‘over-inflated’ opinions about the standards his school achieves. Maybe they will be confused as to how the outcomes we achieved in 2015 were almost identical to the ones I predicted we would get during the last inspection. Maybe they will wonder as to how this incompetent leader got any green on his Raise Online and achieved an above average value added score with results that placed his school in the top ten performing schools within the city? Maybe they will dismiss our three year 20% growth in achievement and complete close of the gap between our disadvantaged pupils and their peers as nothing more than a blip. A long, three-year blip. Who knows?

But back to this lead inspector. It was with some personal interest that, upon hearing the news that Ofsted were culling a large number of their inspectors as they were considered to be unfit for purpose, I enquired if my very own lead inspector would end up on the slagheap. To my dismay, I learned that she is still inspecting. Despite having had one of her inspection reports completely re-written due to the fact that it was proved to be highly inaccurate; despite the fact that her knowledge of data analysis was deeply flawed; despite the fact that she did in fact judge individual lessons; despite the fact that one of the complaints that was upheld, based on evidence provided by one of the additional inspectors, was about her bullying behaviour throughout the inspection; despite the fact that HMI found her evidence base to be lacking, in order for her to make the judgements she did; despite the fact that she mis-represented comments from the school’s senior leaders when writing up her report; despite the fact that she did not follow protocol during the final feedback meeting with the local authority; despite the fact that other schools have complained to the local press about her; despite the fact that she came into a school with a fixed agenda and stuck rigidly to it and despite the fact that she is not HMI accredited…she is still inspecting. I have been told that she will no longer lead inspections but she is still out thete.

Finally, and because, unlike her, I like to be thorough, I couldn’t help but click on her school’s website to see how she had presented her 2014 poor results to her community. At first I thought I had got the wrong school. Because, the results that were being publicised were not the same as the results on the performance tables. According to her, 83% of pupils achieved a level 4 in reading in 2014. And yet, according to the DfE only 71% did. A similar pattern occurs for all other subjects: she claims 95% achieved level 4 in maths when only 83% did; she claims 85% of pupils achieved level 4 in the grammar test and yet the DfE seem pretty certain only 67% did. Maybe her school results omit certain pupils that DfE hasn’t updated, or maybe she forgot to change the date on the website, or maybe these were her unvalidated 2015 results. But guess what? I checked. These are not her 2015 results, according to the DfE. Far from it. Sadly, I can’t actually check what she is claiming for this year’s results because her school’s website is currently under construction.

So why can’t I let go? Am I just bitter? Is it just sour grapes? Is this just a petty grudge?

No.

I think schools have a right to know that rogue, unprofessional and incompetent inspectors are still out there. I think Ofsted should know that one of their own is a living breathing disgrace to their organisation. I think Ofsted should go back and question the claims made in a ‘good with outstanding features’ report when promises are not delivered. I think the professional community should know that when a Head is falsifying information on their website it is followed up and dealt with. I think the professional community should know that Ofsted does not give Heads who are also inspectors an easy ride when inspecting their schools. I think the professional community should know that inspectors who ride roughshod over the inspection framework get punished.

In short, I think we all deserve better than her.

When I know that, I’ll let it go.

17 thoughts on “Letting go

  1. Vicky December 20, 2015 / 2:27 pm

    I am pleased for you and your staff that you had the strength and determination to challenge your inspection findings, many in your situation would ,and do , walk away. I am horrified that if the information about your lead inspector is as you say that a) she is still inspecting and b) still a headteacher. I can only hope that you are going to forward all this information both to our beloved leader and her puzzled Rottweiler who find it hard to understand why schools can’t recruit good heads and why teachers are leaving in droves.

  2. BekBlayton December 20, 2015 / 3:42 pm

    To echo the comment above I am very pleased that you did manage to fight it – think how many heads just don’t have the fight left in them. Sadly, this is a story we hear about too often, why do some headteachers feel the need to bully and judge and to force schools into data driven dead alleys? How can ofsted begin to deal with this? We have askes for inspectors who are serving heads, and we get this…

  3. Bernie December 20, 2015 / 4:33 pm

    Well done to you and your school. So sad you had to go through the pain of an ofsted and then the trauma of having to fight against an unfair outcome. When I listen to colleagues and their experiences Of inspections I do feel there is still inconsistencies. Very frustrating and distressing. How can a fellow head treat you in this way? Stay strong

  4. julietgreen December 20, 2015 / 5:37 pm

    “Why would a fellow Head go into a school that had improved so much over the last two years and seek to destroy it?” Because, as I have said before, to general criticism, positions of power attract people who are attracted to positions of power. Your school and staff are lucky to have a head like you – one with vision and integrity. Think of the staff at her school.

  5. fidelianimmons December 20, 2015 / 6:34 pm

    Dip or no dip, whose results are they anyway? It is a fact that most children in the ‘disadvantaged areas’ receive private tutoring paid for by their parents. There are tuition centres in the ‘disadvantaged areas’ claiming they are responsible for the children’s progress. So what to do?

  6. M.C. Foreman December 20, 2015 / 6:54 pm

    Congratulations in overcoming the injustice. Of course a vindictive headteacher will seek to undermine others who are doing well in difficult circumstances as it will make them feel better about their own inadequacies. There is nothing like a bully wreaking revenge over others who are achieving better than themselves. Unfortunately most headteachers do not fight Ofsted as there is little or no support from local authorities and unions against the Gradgrindian monolith of Ofsted. The whole process is deeply flawed with headteachers, governors and local authorities (where they still have responsibility for schools) still dancing to the demands of the regime in terms of standards and data and being above floor thresholds. At least you have retained leadership of your school and not been driven down the academies route as the salvation for an under-performing school. How ironic. Make sure you hold true to your principles and continue to strive to improve the life prospects of children at your school.

  7. London City Mum December 20, 2015 / 8:32 pm

    It may give little comfort, but all I will venture here is ‘karma’.
    Plus the fact that you have both integrity and vision: she has neither and hence the logical association with seeking to justify herself through a position of power.
    It begs the question, actually, of who on earth actually appointed her in the first place and what was their judgement (if any)?

    Kudos.

  8. mikeollerton December 21, 2015 / 4:10 am

    Wow – what a tour-de-force. As I read I became more and more impassioned about the flawed nature of the very inspection system which purports to be a key element in raising standards in schools. That you have been unable to “let go” is unsurprising; that you made it your business to inspect the inspector and unearth such dissonances is amazing in terms of the energy required to do so. At issue is how many teachers from across the educational spectrum have had cause to feel unsupported and undermined by Ofsted inspections? And is it any wonder there is a crisis in retention; let alone recruitment. Ofsted has a lot to answer for, as th recent cull of inspectors lays bare; sadly though some have slipped through the net. Flippant I accept – but also try singing along to: “Oh, oh watching the detectives…” (Elvis Costello)

  9. @TeacherToolkit December 21, 2015 / 9:06 am

    Sadly, when I met with Sean Harford, he said that because we are humans, OfSTED inspections will never be 100% bulletproof. When I showed him comparative data, same context, same data, my school and another had RI and Outstanding respectively.
    Data (alone) is still used to judge schools and there are still flaws in the system. Until there is a more reliable method put in place, the high-stakes assessment of schools being judged should continue to be challenged by all of us, even if sadly they are conducted by rogue inspectors who are fellow senior leaders. What a sad story …

  10. Mr Rogers (@RogersHistory) December 21, 2015 / 1:03 pm

    Excellent Blog. A sad indictment of the inspection system. It also raises an important point about the way in which the individual personalities of OFSTED inspectors can impact on any outcome. An inspection team can pinpoint specific data sets that they want to use and pursue lines of enquiry that suit their own agenda (if they have one).

  11. Y December 21, 2015 / 4:59 pm

    Highlights the failings of our inspection system. You should put in a formal complaint containing these facts to Ofsted. They need to follow up. The culture needs to be tackled – which unfortunately you have already had to do. I applaud you.

  12. headswapboy December 22, 2015 / 7:08 pm

    I’m afraid that my experience tallies with your. The very last people we should allow to judge our schools are fellow heads. Least of all those who feel they are in a position to judge and therefore have an inflated view of their own competence. They swagger into our schools with a ‘they don’t do it my way so they must be wrong’ attitude and cause undue damage. Believe me I have experienced it and had to fight it, admittedly not in such a harsh way. Take some time to relax this week and go after justice in the new year. How dare so many people try to destroy our schools.
    Raising a glass of single malt to you. Keep it up!

  13. Head December 23, 2015 / 6:16 pm

    I have followed your posts and would to chat.
    Kind regards,
    Gary
    Mr Gary Birkett
    Head teacher
    Newbarns Primary & Nursery School
    Tel: (01229) 877442
    Email: admin@newbarns.cumbria.sch.uk
    Twitter: @newbarns1

  14. Paul Miles December 30, 2015 / 10:59 am

    Well done to you for having the strength to pursue these issues and for raising important questions which should be addressed, not just on an individual school level, but nationally regarding the whole OFSTED culture and processes. You have risen above this: however some heads and teachers have taken their own lives as a result of these inspections. Whether the results are accurate or not, how can we allow a system to continue that causes professionals to kill themselves as they cannot carry on? And how many teachers and heads feel the only course of action is to leave and are thereby lost to the profession through resignations? OFSTED kills, or slaughters, or murders, our fellow professionals and is the cause for a huge exodus of teachers, leaving the service rapidly approaching breaking point. WHY do we comply with OFSTED?

  15. Em December 31, 2015 / 8:56 am

    Thank goodness you had the strength and determination to fight this. How lucky for you school that they had a head that could fight for them.

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