There is a line in the film ‘The Fugitive’ where, in response to Harrison Ford’s earnest protestations that he didn’t murder his wife, Tommy Lee Jones says: I don’t care. Never have three words of dialogue summed up a character so perfectly. Within those three words contain the very DNA of Tommy Lee Jones’ Samuel Gerard, a bloodhound of a US Marshall, who cares more about the scent than the sentiment. When he delivers that line, with a facial expression that would make a plank of wood seem lively, you immediately understand that we are in the company of a true professional. A man who is able to do his job to exacting standards because he focusses on the right thing with absolute clarity.
As you walk into the staffroom of Ofsted HQ there is, I imagine, a large banner stretching right across the far wall, just above the washing up rota and the comedy postcards saying ‘Keep calm and carry on inspecting’, ‘You don’t have to be a failed teacher to work here but it helps’ and ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, teach PE; those who can’t teach PE become Ofsted inspectors’. The banner, written in comic sans, was put up just after their Christmas party, by Sean Harford himself, and contains the 2016 mantra for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate: Myth-busting makes us feel good.
This mantra has already brought us a document on what inspectors don’t want to see during an inspection. I imagine that every self-respecting Head has already had every word of this tattooed all over their body, in a variety of gothic fonts, so that, during a rogue inspection, they can tear open their shirt and scream ‘Read the small print you rogue son-of-a-bitch, you can’t expect to see any sort of marking in our spelling books.’ The mantra banner or ‘bantra’ (as I believe Sean likes to call it) has also resulted in a series of videos where Ofsted inspectors give us the lowdown on how to survive an Ofsted inspection like a pro (in short, Heads should concentrate on doing whatever it is that is important for their children and sod everything else). These will be followed by a series of myth-busting blogs, tweets and memes, culminating in a fancy dress vine video of all the Ofsted gang dancing along to an edited version of ‘Who you gonna call?’
It’s difficult not to admire, or even fall hopelessly in love with, this top-down rhetoric. Even if it feels a bit like Stockholm syndrome. I, for one, am happy to be seduced by my former abuser – I only hope that I can remember the safe word the next time we meet and I’m subjected to a data-enema. The thought of staring down an inspector whilst saying ‘But my children don’t need learning objectives that are also linked to British Values’ and getting away with it makes me giddy with excitement.
Gone is the old Ofsted tagline of ‘raising standards, improving lives’. That was, after all, directed towards children and, in doing so, it muddied rather than purified the water inside the education chalice from which we all sup. With every inspection that passed, a raft of analysts were looking at features of all the reports and compiling lists of things schools must and must not do if they wanted to be judged positively. Planning. Marking. Teaching styles. Learning objectives. Targets. Text books. Consolidation. Challenge. Differentiation. The delicate tools of our trade were being blunted by short-sighted leaders and their obsession with doing what they thought someone else would like to see, as opposed to what worked in their school. In trying to raise standards through superficial measures it was the lives of teachers that suffered. Over-worked, under-valued and not listened to. Well, no more. We are entering a brave new world of Ofsted that promises to make sense of a once mad world and restore order and (work-life) balance. Ofsted: Busting myths, improving lives.
Now, we can all be like Tommy Lee Jones. The next time we are told that in order to teach like champions we should be using a shared vocabulary that makes us all sound like the illicit love child of Siri and Cortana rather than a human being we can simply say: ‘I don’t care.’ The next time some piece of education policy around new times tables tests for three year olds gets announced through your twitter timeline, you can roll your eyes, swipe to refresh and say: ‘I don’t care’. The next time you’re sat on a table with an ‘outstanding’ Head who is telling you how their new approach to marking includes teachers skyping every child at weekends in order to counteract the weekend progress slump that was impacting on their Monday morning maths mastery assessment tests, you can take a bite out of their croissant, drain their coffee cup, look them dead in the eye and say: ‘I don’t care’.
How liberating. All we have to care about is doing what’s right for our children and our teachers. I love it when a plan comes together.
The one tiny fly in Ofsted’s myth-busting ointment is, and well, it’s such a small matter I almost feel silly mentioning it, but the one teeny-tiny flaw in the plan is that we no longer know what is expected of us. Thanks to the edu-brains of the DfE and Whitehall there isn’t anyone who actually knows if, whatever it is we have deemed appropriate to teach and assess our pupils this year, is on the money. Add to this absence of clarity surrounding progress measures the smorgasbord of options in terms of curriculum material and assessment tracking systems and you’re left feeling like a four-year-old trying to choose which option of free school meal to have on their first day at school. I mean, you know it’s not a good sign when Sean Harford is having to write to all Ofsted inspectors telling them to be ‘flexible and understanding when they consider the outcomes next year’ for schools. This might as well have an additional subtitle saying ‘look, it’s not schools’ fault we’re in this mess so go easy on them’ but I’m sure politicians don’t read subtitles – it’s probably against their British values.
I, for one, have never been prouder of the education that the children in my school are receiving but I have no clue as to whether this is going to be reflected at the end of the year. I’m also reasonably secure that I’m not working my teachers into an early grave. But I’m yet to work out if that is enough. Now, logic tells me that if we teach what the children don’t know, everything will work out, but, until this has all played out in real time, that still feels like a bit of a gamble. I may be trying to act like Tommy Lee Jones and stick to the Ofsted bantra, but I have a bad feeling that I’ll be the Head teacher equivalent of a fugitive on the run, trying to protest my innocence as an inspector, struggling to track down my progress data, stonewalls me with three words: I don’t care.
Absolutely spot on. You have it nailed down there. I feel I should cancel my next half dozen blog posts and simply link to this one!
What a sorry state of affairs when nothing is good enough, and what we are all doing now would have been outstanding or better a mere five years ago. I feel I should be saying, ‘well done that’s probably good enough’ after observing brilliant lessons. What have we done to deserve this?
Perfect. Especially the bit about “… I’m sure politicians don’t read subtitles – it’s probably against their British values.”
I think there is a case for a nation-wide MAT that establishes its own republic and denies access forever more to any Ofsted-related inspector or similar.
And if the DfE and Whitehall don’t like it, guess what? Yep. I don’t care.
spot on. It might be time we started to decide ourselves what should be expected of us.
Yep. Spot on. We have been done as we would be done by, stitched up like kippers.
Every piece of work a child does, starting at 5 years old is marked and the child told how it could have been better. We have all complied with this nothing-is-ever-good-enough torture. Children are never told, “Yesss! That’s great work! Go off and play.” OFSTED do the same to teachers. What a surprise. I imagine what this country would look like if everyone at work was told that every single thing they do could / should have been better. “You don’t wanna do it like that…” All day long. I’m not sure anyone would be left standing.
Please get all your Headteacher colleagues together and tell OFSTED they are not coming through your gates. You are the only ones who can sort them out. Put your collective foot down. We lower rank teachers and parents will support you.
Love your posts but just wanted to say that having had an Ofsted a mere fortnight ago, although stressful, it was a very positive experience and the team really did take time to look at us as a school and listen to what we were doing re: assessment etc. I have nothing negative to say about them or the ‘regime’ as it happened. The team comprised two serving heads and one former head so context was suitable.
Yes, my moral compass is still whirling re: all things education but that is more to do with the DfE than Ofsted – such a mess in so many respects. The department have dug themselves such a big hole that they just can’t fill it quickly enough.
As a new head with a school in RI I can only dream of them listening to what we know about our pupils and all that we do for them. We’ll be inspected after this debacle of an assessment cycle which currently feels like a complete curse but that is another blog post I’m sure.
There is always an opportunity in any line of work to just say ” I don’t care”, but the thing is if we do this often enough, there will be no one left that DOES care. It is a system breakdown. The ones that will suffer the most by our lack of care, will be the children. Who’ll care for them and their education and their well being.
I respect teachers deeply. They are real angels donating a piece of themselves every day to the next generation. A good teacher does not do that for money or glory, he/she does it out of genuine love for children.