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?


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.



I’m not going to lie. It’s been a hell of a year.

Ofsted broke my heart.

I cried.

I ranted.

I blogged.

I fought.

It took three months for the inspection to materialise into a final published report. Many inaccuracies of the draft report were changed but the tone of the report had become damning and cruel.

For a while I considered packing it in. Over three years I had given everything to that school. I believed I had made a difference. I believed that it was a better place than it was when I first arrived.

I was obviously wrong.

I turned to others for help. I got it. Little by little I began to regain shreds of self-belief. Shards of evidence that suggested I wasn’t off my nut and that I did, despite the report, know what I was doing.

I kept my chin up, you know, for the kids. But deep down I still felt it. I mean, how many RIs have I got left? Better jump than be pushed. But then again, what does a failed Head do?

After a while people said – move on. It was like when somebody dies in a soap. Three episodes later and everyone’s forgotten about them. Well, I was still mourning the loss of my ‘good’ Ofsted. I couldn’t move on.

I complained.

My complaint came back. Many points had been upheld. Victory! Some hadn’t. And I’m a teacher at heart, so, of course, I focussed on those bits.

Then people began to say: seriously, move on.

And I did.

I went to a conference. I got some ideas. I worked with some inspirational people. I threw a few ideas around with my Deputy. Pretty soon I was feeling the spark. That moment when you think you’ve hit upon something big. My SDP was starting to take shape.

Momentum gathered.

Every now and then I would stop and realise that I hadn’t thought about Ofsted for days.

On 7th July the results came out.

O M G!

Well whadda y’know?

We did really well. We got the results a certain inspector said we never would.


Then I started to think that it wasn’t fair. What is the point of results if you don’t have a good Ofsted to go with it?

Then three things were said to me at the school summer fair.

  1. The ex-governor: When I saw that every disadvantaged pupil had made a level 4 I thought, that’s it, we’ve done it. We’ve closed that gap. We’ve made a difference. I was so proud. Well done, everyone!
  2. The parent: Isn’t there something parents could do to tell Ofsted that they’ve just got it wrong? This is a great school.
  3. The Year 6 pupil: Thank you for being a Head that didn’t leave us straight away.

Those three statements hit me like a cliché hitting me really hard.

I was reminded about what is important.

  1. Helping those children who need it the most is important.
  2. Enabling parents to support their local school is important.
  3. Leaders that stick around are important.

I realised why I had begun to be excited in the preceding weeks. Because in September I’m going to help secure those three very important things. Not for Ofsted, but for us. I’m going to work with my team and help the school get better and better at doing the right thing and we’re going to measure it ourselves using the right instruments.

Ofsted can choose to see what they like but I’m not doing it for them.

I’m over it.

I’m in love with my job again.

It’s going to be a hell of a year.

Now leaving from runway number 3

You know that feeling when you’re flying on a plane at that height somewhere in between the land and the clouds, and you look out of your window (or you lean silently over the sleeping man to the side of you in order to look out of the window) and you see the earth all peaceful below you. Maybe you’re close enough to see little cars, moving like ants, or houses all nestled in neat little rows. The organisation of it all seems so well structured, even the irregular fields seem to have a sense of order. As you look down, trying to ignore the snoring of the sleeping man, you bask in the serenity of it all. Everything is peaceful. Everything seems right with the world. None of the arguments, fights, wars or politics that cause so much stress, pain and heartache for so many people are evident. You wonder why the world doesn’t seem so peaceful when you’re actually on it, you wonder why people can’t appreciate the beauty of life on earth and just get along with everyone else. For such a big place, the little creatures that inhabit it sure do cause a lot of chaos.

At this point on the flight I usually recline back on my chair, often at the exact time the man has awoken, gasped and said ‘Excuse me, do you mind?’, and I think about my own life back on the ground. When I think about school I think of the messy, loud, chaotic place that I spend most of my life thinking and worrying about. It is a lovely place to be but it is not a serene place of calm. If you read my SEF you would be forgiven for thinking that it is a Buddhist temple – a mecca for learning and positivity that exudes a zen-like calm.

This is not what my school is like.

Don’t get me wrong. My SEF isn’t fictional. It’s just written from a distance. It is written from the luxury of 15,000 feet above playground level. It documents the school from a distance rather than from the runway. If you spent time in my school and then read my SEF you would see the correlation between the document and the building. If, however, you read the SEF during home time, or whilst you were on duty during wet play, or while you were trying to get a class on a coach about to go to the zoo, you would probably beg to differ. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even have the luxury of time to read it, which is a good thing, if I caught you reading something when you should be helping children alight a coach I’d bring you in for a disciplinary.

The SEF is a school’s tourist information centre that seeks to give valuable bits of information to the visitor. They are the air-travel equivalent of the captain announcing over the radio that, as long as the wind speed continues, the plane should make good progress and they may even arrive ahead of schedule. The problem of course is that a SEF immediately puts the school, as written on paper, in suspended animation. It is no longer representative of a living breathing organisation. As soon as the words of the SEF are written, they are trapped by their own static existence on the page.

For too long though, the only people interested in reading the SEF have been external visitors to schools. School tourists are mainly Ofsted inspectors, HMI and the local authority. And, just as holiday destinations will cater for the needs of the people that most commonly descend upon them during holiday season, so do school SEFs try to meet the wishes of their readers.

For example, an Ofsted inspector understands what words like ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ mean when they read them on a SEF. What’s ‘more an Ofsted inspector likes to read these words, we know they do. Ofsted inspectors are the equivalent of English tourists who upon going to Spain find the pub that serves Carling and shows episodes of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ on the telly. They find it comforting, they know where they stand and with any luck, everyone speaks the same language.

However, these words are rather limiting. If you’re not careful you can become enslaved by your SEF as a result of trying to crowbar in these ‘judgements’ at every turn. Heads become akin to frustrated sous chefs desperate to be let loose on an a la carte menu only to be told by the Head Chef that it’s a fixe prix menu or nothing. As soon as you type any of these words onto your SEF, you set in stone a judgement and you falsely elevate your school into the clouds – where everything is peaceful and life is not quite as we know it.

Well, I say no more.

I no longer want my SEF to be a view of my school from above. I want it to be a down and dirty vision of my school, as it is on the ground. I want my SEF to reflect what we actually do and what we want to do better. I am not concerned with using vocabulary that an external person can latch onto just so they can say ‘Yes I agree’ or ‘I wouldn’t use that word if I were you’. I want to go beyond the two sacred words that apparently mean everything’s ok (for now). I want to stretch the possibilities beyond outstanding and I want to tackle issues that are important to us rather than ones that are high ranking in the inspection framework. In short: I want my SEF to be more.

Real life is gritty and everyone has their own lives to lead and problems to overcome. Well so does my school. And so will my SEF. Judge me if you want, when you’re flying over my school and looking down from the clouds. But I’m changing flight paths. Because my school isn’t all neat and tidy. I’m refusing to read the safety instructions and I’ll be dammed if I’m helping you with your oxygen mask.

I’m going bigger. I’m getting messier. And I bet I’ll do better.