‘Ofsted’-does this little word create a shiver down your spine, give you sleepless nights and an eruption of hives? Or are you one of those leaders who confidently screams ‘Bring it on!’ as you stride down the corridor, the latest copy of your school SEF clutched in your hand? Whatever your personal feelings are, there’s no doubt that Ofsted, its purpose and procedures, remain a controversial issue. One such controversy exists as to whether all schools are playing on a level field. Is Ofsted fundamentally easier for some schools than others? Is a one-size fits all inspection fair, or even what is needed to create sustainable improvement in our schools?
Like most leaders, in my teaching career I have survived an assortment of Ofsteds in a number of different schools. Just as each school was unique, each inspection was unique too. Regimes and criteria have changed but the fundamental principle (according to Ofsted at least) that inspections exist to challenge schools and promote improvement, remains the same.
From the moment I stepped into my last school, I knew that it was failing. With a maverick Headteacher in charge, as a deputy I was able to make little impact. 18 months later, the much-feared judgment, that special measures were needed, came as no surprise. Correspondingly, I had not been surprised when my previous school was judged Outstanding. It was obvious that the children were getting a pretty good deal. The two schools served very different catchment areas, with very different clientele. So was it just the difference in the school’s socio-economic profiles that made one more able to succeed than the other? Research does not show that this is the case; in his Annual Report 2011/2012, Sir Michael Wilshaw stressed that ‘there s no correlation between the degree of access to good primary education, as judged by Ofsted, and the socio-economic profile of the local authority area’. So why do some schools succeed in challenging circumstances when others fail?
No doubt the public perceives schools in special measures to be gloomy, disorganised institutions where the children run riot and scruffy lazy teachers lack control and motivation. This certainly wasn’t the case; the unsuccessful school looked like a fantastic, stimulating and productive learning environment. To the untrained eye, it was bright and cheerful with the usual multitude of displays which proclaimed that your child would be so excited and motivated by all the amazing learning experiences on offer that they couldn’t help but make progress. Furthermore, it was staffed by the most diligent and committed staff I have ever had the pleasure to work with. However, it was what my friend called ‘A Christmas Tree’ school- all tinsel and glitter on the outside, but underneath the actual tree itself is dying, deprived of the nourishment it needs to grow and flourish. The staff’s hard work lacked direction and resulted in the children making little progress.
However, despite the...