What's the point of OFSTED?
The above is the rather blunt question I that posed recently during an occasional focus/ discussion group that I attend with other educational professionals at the DfE. It was posed to a civil servant who was part of the team who advises Michael Gove and was part of a wider discussion about the direction of travel of the current government.
Although it sounded a little blunt, I was actually generally interested. In my mind there is sometimes some confusion as to whether OFSTED is about school improvement or accountability. It’s clear that many teachers and schools feel and fear its accountability role but OFSTED itself often wades into the school improvement pool with reports collating best practice in various areas.
The response from the civil servant was very clear and unequivocal “Accountability”. Before going on to outline that school improvement was intended to be more devolved and localised falling into the remit of local partnerships, alliance and teaching schools.
“If, it’s about accountability,” I mused aloud “why do we carry on with the high pressure lesson observations when actually we all know that OFSTED tend to look at the data, make a judgment re what it is telling them and then find the evidence around the school to support the conclusion to which they have already come?”
So far so predictable but it was the response of one of my fellow attendees that made me stop, reflect and write this post.
OFSTED look at lessons to validate the judgements of the senior leadership teams. It’s not really about the teachers its about whether they agree with what SLT have said about the quality of their schools.
Another participant then added something along the lines of
Yes the data is one source of evidence but they are really just looking at different ones to see if they argee with what the leadership team are saying
I may little slow but at that moment something clicked into place for me. They were entirely correct. OFSTED is about the SLT, the fear and pressure that teachers feel is very real but it comes from their management teams not the inspectors. How do I know this? because we recently went through a review by an oranisation called the Challenge Partners and the classroom teacher felt no pressure at all, because they weren’t put under any. Some people came into their lessons and gave them feedback and behind the scenes there were lots of meetings with senior leaders and various TLR holders to justify what we as a school said about ourselves. That was it.
In schools OFSTED has become the bogey man but it need not be that way. Leaders need to make it clear that actually we are the ones being judged not teachers. Still not sure? Well when teachers are observed do the best ones put any pressure on their students? No- because it wouldn’t be fair to do so as they aren’t really the ones being judged.