'Ofsted is the biggest bully in our playgrounds'

Calling hard-working teachers 'inadequate' or saying they 'require improvement' is bullying, says one head of department

Ofsted needs to stop bullying teachers and become a positive force for school improvement, writes one head of department

Ofsted, I have called you out of your lesson today to have a little talk. During anti-bullying week, I couldn't help noticing that the same name kept cropping up again and again – yours.     

Despite all your promises over the years, you continue – with your habitual name-calling – to bring needless stress and misery to thousands. This has gone on for far too long.   

You have, as we like to say, been letting children down, teachers down and – most of all – letting yourself down.  Calling decent, hard-working people names like “inadequate” or “requiring improvement” is completely unacceptable behaviour. It isn’t clever. It isn’t funny. And it isn’t helping anyone.    

Maybe you think that such behaviour is balanced out by the nicer words that you use? Don’t kid yourself. Trust me, the name-calling puts everyone off and makes it impossible for anyone working in a school to want to truly engage with you. That's what happens to bullies.    

I know that there is a better you within. So I am asking you, in this week of all weeks, to grow up at last and realise that everyone (yourself included) will do much better if you cease such behaviour.

Ofsted could be a force for good

Instead, if you were to use your power and strength in a constructive way, you really could turn things around for yourself and for everyone else. You have many talents, great experience, so you could become an amazing vehicle for schools to benefit from each other’s ideas and practices. So why not go in and work properly with people in school, rather than name-calling and running away each time?

Ofsted, you may claim that your role in life is not to be popular or useful. You may fold those arms defiantly and tell me that your duty is simply to report to stakeholders. But what kind of a hopeless life is that to tell your grandchildren? You need to work with the department to change that wasteful remit, make yourself useful, become more cost-effective, secure the finance you need and become a body that really would be in the interests of all those said stakeholders, inside and outside school.

Your work could still include a report, but it would be a more informed and formative one. The old name-calling would be replaced with a more professional-looking review, with details of any plans that you and the school are going to work on together, based on what you have seen work elsewhere. You are the obvious body to do this work.

I see that you are proposing a new “framework” for next year, intended to take a broader view of what is going on in schools. Yet you still want to call people names – in fact, you plan to do so more than ever.

As an educator yourself, you must know that all the name-calling does is to deflect attention away from anything conceivably useful in your feedback. The new categories will mean that you will waste even more time and money in the familiar struggle to pick and justify the “right” adjective for each of your extra new categories.

You do it purely because it is then easy to convert adjective to number. This means you can feed it into your central data bank. That might make the job of people working at your HQ happier, but, for each individual school (arguably a more important consideration), it is clumsy, unhelpful and often grossly unfair.

You rightly complain that schools have become too driven by exam data. And yet your well-intentioned reform is still just another version of bullying, because of your own obsession with data.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire 

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