OFSTED: Creating new futures for the teaching profession

by | Mar 24, 2023 | Coaching, Curriculum, Leadership, New, Quality

Our deepest condolences and sadness at the death of Ruth Perry

I was so sad to hear about the death of Ruth Perry, headteacher for Caversham Primary School. I have followed with increasing despair the responses from OFSTED, the late reporting by the BBC and the lack of comment from the DfE and particularly from Gillian Keegan. The groundswell of feeling including the growing number of signatures to a petition to ask for an urgent review of the current Ofsted Framework and associated methodology is testament to a conviction that something has to change for all of us who work in education, which alongside health is one of the most important professions there is. Hence, I wanted to write this post.

The statement from Amanda Spielman that has now been published, no doubt as a result of the growing publicity surrounding this devastating situation defends the OFSTED position but goes no way to address the fundamental issues that are exposed by what has happened. Simple facts are worrying,

  • The visit from inspectors happened in November
  • The school was good in every category except for leadership and management
  • The reasons for the inadequate judgement were to do with safeguarding issues
  • The school began to address concerns immediately following the inspection
  • The publication of the report was a few days ago in late March four months following the inspection

OFSTED? Why is it no longer fit for purpose?

There are so many glaring and quite obvious reasons why all of us who belong to the teaching profession must continue to lobby for change. The current inspection system is out of kilter with much of the research into how schools can continuously improve, how we work collaboratively to develop curriculum strategies that deliver excellence and how we look for ways to build sustainable and effective professional development approaches that foster the highest quality of education. We are nearly a quarter of the way through this century and our methods of school accountability are way out of date.

Firstly, the language is no longer fit for purpose. We have moved on as a society, ask anyone in business who wants the best out of their staff why the word inspection is so wrong. It suggests that you are looking for something that is not right, suspect or horrible. We inspect for head lice, blocks in a sewer or to detect health issues via x-raying or blood screening. Talk about judgement and know immediately that being judged is not a two way process. A judge sits on high and presides over the potentially innocent or the potentially guilty.

Secondly, the curriculum is a fundamental in any school. It is the substance of the education pupils will receive and should be a high priority for those who set the parameters for learning, for deepening knowledge and for enhancing the skills pupils need to access knowledge. However the framework provided by OFSTED to define the substance and structures are limiting. Intent, suggests a top down approach, a statement to be adhered to. Implementation suggests a putting in place of something already defined by others. Impact is harsh, like a glass breaking on a hard surface or a car crashing into a wall.

I would suggest the 3Ds, creating a three dimensional model that could provide a more creative and less prescriptive approach. Design is creative, stylish and embraces many facets linked to the pupils’ aspirations, needs and interests. Delivery is about receiving something special, transferring something important or conveying ideas and concepts. Dissemination is wider than impact, allows us all to look at much more, to diffuse, to create time to reflect and to share and celebrate good and best practice.

Thirdly, grading has all but disappeared for observing teaching and learning the classroom. Lessons are part of a two way feedback process that focuses on professional development and continuous improvement through strategies such as instructional coaching or mentoring. It, therefore, makes little sense to continue to grade schools in the pernicious way they are at present. Outstanding has two meanings, you are outstanding or there are still things that remain outstanding. I suggest if we have to use the word, the second meaning is more in keeping with a school’s ethos of continuous improvement.

Good is such a relative term and needs refining, good by whose standards and in which contexts, good in comparison with what. Requires improvement actually as a statement requires improvement, don’t we work with a belief that we can continuously improve. To improve we have to know in what, which areas and to how will we benchmark improvement. Lastly, receiving the devastating blow of being inadequate is quite frankly irresponsible and can do nothing but create well-being issues for all staff, pupils and parents.

New dimensions

Creating new futures for the teaching profession

One of the most important changes to the profession in recent years is the formation of the Chartered College of Teaching. This means that the profession has been given chartered status so once a teacher becomes a member of the college he or she can register for the relevant pathway to work towards chartered status. It is an accolade that none of us must take lightly. We educate all those who belong to other chartered professions such as accountancy, health, the law, architecture, dentistry to name a few, it is sometimes difficult to understand why this status has taken such a long time to be applied to the teaching profession.

The growing consensus is that through the Chartered College and other important research led organisations we can become a research driven profession that has excellence and continuous improvement at the heart of its ethos. What we need is to create a powerful driver for change where the profession is involved in the creation of a culture that is by teachers for teachers and that has learning at its core. The current politicisation of the teaching profession and those it serves is not fit for purpose and only serves to create the stress and dissatisfaction that is driving many to seek alternatives away from the profession of teaching and is leading many talented potential teachers to seek their futures elsewhere.

There needs to be a shift away from the whole perception of ‘inspection’ to a culture where continuous improvement is at the heart of professional conversations that start with school leaders and their teams knowing their strengths, their potential and their development needs. The system of ‘inspection’ needs to move away from the inspector and OFSTED driving the process to the school and an advisory or coaching team managing a period of positive interaction linked to a genuine focus on a quality assurance system that will drive positive change and challenge over time.

Inspectors, we are told, are individuals with experience as good or outstanding school leaders so some of them could be part of a new regime that does not judge or inspect but works with school leaders to create their own change model that incorporates the principals of quality assurance shapes it to their local and wider context. This model would start with a focus on strengths and then how the school can work towards ensuring every aspect of school life adheres to the clearly defined quality indicators.

Driving change through positive professional conversations

I didn’t know Ruth Perry, but I feel sad beyond words. If as a profession we can drive a process of change that takes away this shadow over the profession it will be a tribute and a legacy. Her school was a ‘good’ school, the OFSTED report is glowing in many places about the pupils, their learning and the teaching, behaviour and many other areas of school life. Whatever was at fault should have been part of a process of partnership and a shared commitment to putting right what was wrong. To brand the whole school and by association its headteacher as inadequate, is quite frankly beyond belief.

Criticising OFSTED will simply create the same well crafted, bland and saying nothing response we heard from Amanda Spielman. She has no choice but to follow the procedures and find the language that says nothing. What we need to do is to question what we know is wrong, insist on different approaches when OFSTED come to call and begin to build an alternative approach through schools working together in partnership to create improvement strategies they can share and develop the mechanisms where professional conversations drive a positive change agenda.

I am Glynis Frater and I would love to hear from anyone who wants to be part of a positive strategy for change. I think as a profession we are all ready for the challenge and want to see the world of education we all love to have the right systems that allow for a process of continuous improvement. Something that is very difficult at the moment when it is deemed alright to call a highly trained and experienced professional inadequate. 07974 754241 glynis@learningcultures.org

New Books


The book ‘Primary Curriculum Design and Delivery by Glynis Frater‘ has now been published.

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