An inspector calls: A conversation about the Ofsted guidance on behaviour

7th January 2014 at 22:29

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter a few nights ago, and I like to bring you interesting things.



After my last post, on what I saw as damaging Ofsted guidance on behaviour and exclusions, I had the pleasure of talking to David Brown, a lead inspector, about the issues that I raised. It was perfectly civil and David put his case across lucidly and with patience. I've screen-grabbed it above, because I think that it represents a fair response and also puts across the inspector's point of view, something that is rarely heard on social networks. Frankly, if I were an inspector, I'd probably keep clear of the chatrooms too.


The transcript of the conversation follows below; I've made some observations at the end.




@DavidBrownHMI: Re exclusions/attendance data: I would assume/trust that the school would explain the context of this data to the team


@tombennett71: That’s cold comfort if the team view high rates as a proxy for poor management


@DavidBrownHMI: That was my point; can the context of the data justify the ‘high rates’ to the inspection team?


‏@tombennett71: It doesn’t get that far- schools pre-emptively fail to exclude


‏@DavidBrownHMI: Well that is their choice - the school may then need to justify how that decision helps the progress of (all) pupils.


‏@tombennett71: By which point it’s too late- the school culture has tilted towards appeasement, and disguising it is easy for inspection


‏@tombennett71: It’s killing good behaviour systems: low exclusions are an indicator, not an intrinsic good


@DavidBrownHMI: Yes, which takes me back to my first reply! So how can this situation be avoided?


‏@tombennett71: By removing guidance that equates high rates with ‘not good behaviour overall’. It has enormous impact on how schools exclude


‏@DavidBrownHMI: But in some cases, and particularly over a long period, that link may well be correct. Another reason why insp talk to pupils.


@tombennett71: True, but that link shouldn’t be assumed, and the guidance encourages that assumption. High rates often necessary


‏@DavidBrownHMI: ‘High numbers of exclusions....... are likely to indicate ineffective.......’ the key word is ineffective 1/2


‏@tombennett71: Schools read this and automatically think, ‘Don’t exclude’. Your point valid, but solving it this way creates bigger problems


‏@tombennett71: Also, IME pupils usually chosen by school


‏@DavidBrownHMI: That point I would disagree with; inspectors often select pupils and there are also many opps for less formal discussions.


‏@tombennett71: I’ve seen that, certainly- I’ve also seen carefully selected representatives. That needs to stop


‏@DavidBrownHMI: Yes, but there are other times when it is possible to have less ‘formal’ discussions with pupils (and staff).


‏@tombennett71: In two day with a couple of inspectors, that’s a tall order. Surprise inspections far better at least


@DavidBrownHMI: I always do this in any inspection I lead, and expect any team members to do the same - it is important evidence!


‏@tombennett71: I see schools with terrible behaviour get good grades very frequently, because everyone puts their faces on


@DavidBrownHMI: Shouldn’t happen, but what can I say if you have seen very frequently. Pupils and parents are (usually?) honest when asked.


‏@tombennett71: I know majority of insps do their best, but without anonymity of interviewee, plus surprise, hard to see it being honest


‏@DavidBrownHMI:  Informal disussions are anonymous, and remember that Ofsted will now inspect without notice if poor behaviour is identified.


‏@stevejodwin But life wld have to be unbearable for a tchr to blow the whistle as spec measures is a horrendous reward 4 it


@DavidBrownHMI: But not pupils! And how bad would behaviour have to be for it to be only reason for SM? I doubt would be missed.


@stevejodwin: But even getting a 3 is a nightmare & not worth washing dirty linen in public. As 4 ppls,I’m not sure they 1/2


@stevejodwin: 2/2 are 100% aware of nuances and schl wide issues of behaviour.


‏@DavidBrownHMI: But you did say SM :). How would such poor behavior be missed in lesson observations?


‏@stevejodwin: All the things @tombennett71 mentions in blog eg a 2 day walking on eggs escapade with everyone out on patrol,not typical etc


@DavidBrownHMI: ‘everyone out on patrol...........’ in lessons? I refer again to discussions with pupils and parents.


‏@stevejodwin: Key kids bribed,threatened,coerced,cajoled, all possible for 2 they can be loyal when chips down


‏@DavidBrownHMI: Why do inspectors talk only to ‘key kids’? ‘bribed, threatened....’: a pretty poor view of fellow professionals.


‏@DavidBrownHMI: If you read conversation I describe what I view as some inaccurate assumptions in the (interesting) blog on behave


‏@stevejodwin: And I (like many tchrs I guess) think his blog very accurate. 38 wks & 3days that you never see in 2 days.


‏@DavidBrownHMI: Did I not mention I was a teacher for 32 years :)?


‏@DavidBrownHMI: And just giving my opinion as someone who has led and taken part in many school inspections.


‏@stevejodwin: Can only talk from my own experience (& aware that @tombennett71: has wide responses to his Qs). Your exp positive, many not


‏@DavidBrownHMI: Of course, I have only ever claimed to talk about my own experiences (would not want to rely on heresay).


‏@stevejodwin: To conclude,OFSTED opening pos’n will only lead to behaviour being masked,not tackled in many schls due to fear


‏@DavidBrownHMI: That would be a shame, but it is a stange defence (and based (in my opinion :)) on fallacies).


‏@tombennett71: Sorry, absence due to Sherlock. I’m sure many inspectors are golden, but this guidance shuts down BM systems


@tombennett71: And if one doesn’t have to deal with the behaviour face to face (some SLT, inspectors) it’s easy to say no to exclusion...


‏@tombennett71: In order to maintain a paper trail that says ‘behaviour is good’. Poor behaviour isn’t always mayhem and chaos.


‏@DavidBrownHMI: I agree, and I understand your arguments, but I think you are aiming at the wrong target. Always good to have a debate!


@tombennett71: Do you mean schools? Because they will almost *always* try to anticipate the preferences of Ofsted


@DavidBrownHMI: The problem is they try to anticipate what they ‘believe’ are the preferences of Ofsted and they (and others) are not.... 1/2


‏@DavidBrownHMI: ...always correct. I write some docs (no, not these) and am aware of how they can be misinterpreted despite best intentions 2/2


‏@tombennett71: But isn’t article 80 quite specific? or being generous, misleadingly specific? We both know exactly how this will be read


@DavidBrownHMI: I do believe that if you read it very carefully without any spin it confirms what I have written this evening. 1/2


‏@DavidBrownHMI: Text can always be improved; the issue is being clear without being vague - I know from experience how difficult this is! 2/2


 @tombennett71: And I’m certain that HTs will read this and think ‘We have to get exclusions down’. And many all do that any way they can


‏@tombennett71: It isn’t just an issue of clarity vs ambiguity: this article will shut down credible consequence-based behaviour systems


‏@DavidBrownHMI: And so they should (those not in school cannot progress) but, as you explain in your blog, there are at times reasons.


‏@tombennett71: And it isn’t good enough to say ‘We were misunderstood.’ Ofsted have enormous impact and they have a duty to direct with care


@DavidBrownHMI: And HTs should explain those reasons and inspectors should listen; but this must not encourage excuses.


‏@DavidBrownHMI: I am afraid my experiences as a teacher, leader and inspector tell me that if someone wants to misunderstand they will.


‏@tombennett71: But making low exclusions a proxy for good governance is crushing good behaviour governance


‏@tombennett71: Then inspectors themselves need clearer guidance that low exclusions doesn’t imply successful school management- art 80 fails


‏@tombennett71: This direction wilfully encourages what you describe as misunderstanding. And if Ofsted won’t amend it, it colludes in it


‏@DavidBrownHMI: I think that low exculsions can be PART of ‘implying’ good management - but the reverse is not always true. I think we agree.


‏@DavidBrownHMI: Any amendment could also be misunderstood. Surely what matters is what the words mean - and personally I think that is clear.


‏@tombennett71: I’ll take your word that we agree! Because the guidelines WILL suggest to HTs to cut exclusions artifically. So we don’t..


‏@tombennett71: And personally I see what happens in schools because of this guidance, and it is crucifying teachers.


‏@DavidBrownHMI: I meant agree on the specific point re high exclusions not always due to ‘bad’ management - but perhaps I was wrong.


‏@tombennett71: Thank you for clarification; yes, we agree on that. Many inspectors aren’t as enlightened as you…


 ‏@DavidBrownHMI: Is it the guidance at fault or (in my opinion) inaccurate interpretation? And who is to blame for this - we do disagree here!


@tombennett71: A needlessly suggestive art. 80, a high-stakes accountability system, a generation of nervous SLT terrified of inspection


@DavidBrownHMI: and at that compliment (enlightened) I need to retire. Goodnight, I enjoyed our discussion.

@tombennett71: Thank you, you too



And, with a handshake, he was gone. No Keyser Söze he. Of course, I still disagree, because I can see the impact that this has on nervous schools that are looking for any way to appease the mighty inspectors. They simply shut down behaviour management at the exhaust pipe in an attempt to reduce their CO2 emissions, but all they end up doing is choking the engine. Fewer exclusions for the sake of getting the numbers down has a knock-on effect that goes all the way back to the class. To revisit an old analogy, we could cut crime rates by simply closing prisons and making the police redundant, but I'm not sure that would actually cut crime -- I think that would probably stimulate it. 
As long as this guidance remains and Ofsted still thinks that it's fair and supportive, schools will continue to play safe and inspectors will still take low exclusions as an absolute good. Maybe not all, but enough to make all schools be on their guard, and do the obvious thing, the stupid thing.