Iesha Small

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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.


  • chrishildrew

    30th January 2013 at 7:09 pm → Reply

    I thinks this is spot on. It’s the job
    Of a good SLT to shield staff from Ofsted pressure, not to pass it down the line. Staff (and especially middle leaders) have enough to worry about being accountable for the results, outcomes, progress and achievement in their classes and subject areas, without the burden of inspections as well. It’s natural for a whole school to feel anxious when the inspectors come – you want them to see the school at its best – but endless pre-inspection panic with mock-Ofsted after mock-Ofsted does nothing to raise standards and plenty to stress out your staff. And stressed-out staff are not at their most effective. Counter-productive!

    • ieshasmall

      7th February 2013 at 3:51 pm → Reply

      Sadly, it seems to be the way that many schools are going. Ideally we should see OFSTED as a way to show case what we are doing. If we aim to do the best for students on a daily basis then that should be fine. These things take time though and sustained change can (understandably) be at odds with current system in the minds and actions of some.

  • @colingoffin

    3rd February 2013 at 1:00 pm → Reply

    A spot on post but not sure I can agree with Chris’ follow up re middle leaders. The inspection is of ‘the impact of leaders at all levels’ so middle leaders do need to be more aware and up to speed with Ofsted and their role within the process. Agree with the counter productive nature of endless mock inspections etc though. My struggle will always be with the balance between reducing anxiety and pressure for staff with ensuring what is in place shows ‘a robustness of procedure…’

    • ieshasmall

      7th February 2013 at 3:58 pm → Reply

      It’s a hard balance. The role of middle leaders is a hard one, they are neither fish now fowl but highly accountable, especially in the core subjects. SLT need to provide the resources for middle leaders to do their jobs well and middle leaders need to create conditions for class teachers to deliver great quality learning and outcomes for kids. Both middle leaders and senior leaders need to develop, steer, monitor and hold accountable as required.

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What's the point of OFSTED?