It’s no secret that, for a while, Ofsted’s relationship with the education sector has been changing. Engaging positively with the sector, including those we inspect, is a golden thread running through our 2017-2022 strategy. It is also implicit in the way that we’re using social media (through blogs such as this one) to put our message across. On a personal level, I can see that shift in my day-to-day work as a lead inspector, as the national lead for English and in the work I do within the South East region. As a link HMI, I make sure that inspector performance is of a high standard.
A few weeks ago an Oxfordshire newspaper invited me to respond to questions for an "Ask the inspector" column. The tone and nature of the questions struck me. They were thought-provoking and challenging, as we expect and relish, and opened up the debate.
The wide-reaching questions gave me the opportunity to explain how we’re making a difference. Some questions were about curriculum issues, from the chief inspector’s curriculum commentary and her recent speeches. For example, when we inspect, how much emphasis do we place on extracurricular experiences and what the school’s curriculum offer is?
Out in the field
I introduce myself to the staff at the beginning of an inspection because it’s important that they see that there is a human being behind the HMI badge. I reassure members of staff who have never experienced an inspection before by busting some of the myths about the way we inspect. I take some time to answer questions at the end of the session.
I have seen people’s responses change in these sessions over the past year. I often find that staff are more informed about our work, have read the blogs and tweets that bust the myths and are generally less mistrustful. What they’re asking now is for me to clarify the process. They say they value that and want to positively engage with it.
This attitude isn't just emerging during school inspections. A few weeks ago, I was giving a presentation at a conference in my national lead role. What struck me was how my fellow presenters referred to Ofsted not as a carrot or stick but as an organisation with something worthwhile to share. Some made direct references in their presentations to points made by HMCI. Many teachers, experts and practitioners in the field of English have also remarked favourably on the commentary. Indeed, HMCI’s point that planning for subjects taken from age 11 to age 16 "should not come at the expense of key stage 3 curriculum breadth and depth: 11- to 12-year-olds should not be taught to GCSE assessment objectives", is particularly relevant to key stage 3 English.
Using our evidence
We collect evidence and data from the many providers we work with. This bird’s-eye vantage point lets us share insights more widely. Our research role is complex. Recognising this, our new head of research, Professor Daniel Muijs, has clarified our work in this area in a very informative Tes podcast. To sum it up, we’re making a contribution to the debate rather than being the subject of the debate.
I am not saying "job done" by any stretch and we know there’s more to do. Yet it’s fair to say that I’m cheered by the changing tone of the mood music, which echoes our guiding principle to be a force for improvement. It’s not because it makes my job easier. It's because when Ofsted, teachers and other professionals come together, our combined capacity can make a positive difference to the educational experiences of children and young people.