Ofsted visits are the last things our schools need
The inspectorate’s plans to “visit” schools – and follow up said visits with a letter, much like inspections – demonstrate a stunning lack of empathy, writes Ann Mroz
This summer was characterised by a lack of empathy. The instincts of the powers that be were to protect the system at all costs – the reality of the impact on all those working within education was apparently a secondary factor.
For example, the Department for Education chose to try to prevent grade inflation above any other consideration. There appeared to be little understanding of, or concern about, the difficulties that a generation of young people have faced while out of school and unable to take their exams. There was little trust in the school staff working their butts off to try to do right by those pupils and all others in their care by trying to keep things going in unusual and rapidly evolving circumstances.
And in the push to reopen, there was little or no appreciation that heads might actually know how to run their own schools. Guidance was issued down to the last minutiae, constantly updated and sent out at ludicrous times.
But no organisation has exemplified an empathy deficit more than Ofsted. Wherever the leadership of Ofsted were during the pandemic, they were certainly not listening to the mood music. If they were, then they have a tin ear.
There was not so much as a peep out of the HMCI herself during that time. In fact, the children’s commissioner was saying all the things that the chief inspector should have been saying.
We were told that personnel from the inspectorate were helping out in the sector. If so, the comms team did a pitiful job of communicating how they were doing that. What they should have been doing, of course, was surveying what schools were doing and what they needed, and then reporting back to the secretary of state to inform his decision making. Lord knows he needed it.
Now, it seems that’s what Ofsted is belatedly planning to do – visit some schools, take the temperature of the sector and provide a bit of insight. But they can’t seem to restrict themselves to doing that. Oh no: Ofsted has to do what Ofsted always does and report back to the parents with a letter.
Yes, the inspectorate’s primary responsibility is to the children and parents. But is this really the time to be making that point?
Schools are now welcoming back all their pupils but in all probability will not be teaching a normal curriculum until summer 2021. They will be constantly vigilant to Covid-19 outbreaks, so the last thing they need is Ofsted stomping round the school or being distracted by the need to plan for a visit.
You can tell heads until you’re blue in the face that they don’t need to prepare, but when you know there will be a report, it would be foolish not to. If it looks like an inspection then people will treat it like an inspection. And that is the last thing schools want or need right now.
In fact, a Tes survey of 4,500 teachers found that 80 per cent don’t want school inspections to start for at least a year, and a fifth want to stop them for good.
The way Ofsted is behaving looks as though it has no understanding of the position schools and staff are in. We are not out of the Covid-19 woods and could easily go back in with a second wave this autumn. Heads are juggling staff absence, parent anxiety and trying to keep everyone safe while providing an education. They do not need Ofsted on top of all that.
Judging by past performance from on high, there could well be a U-turn on this before this is even published. I very much hope there is. The government and its various agencies need to learn some humility, listen, understand and tread softly. A little empathy would go a long, long way.
This article originally appeared in the 11 September 2020 issue under the headline “Ofsted's tone-deaf plans serve to prove it hasn't changed its tune”