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'Ofsted needs to recognise the challenges of teaching in a disadvantaged community. Until then, this culture of fear will prevail'

It's not helpful, or indeed accurate, for the inspectorate to say in its annual report that schools are using their communities as an excuse for underperformance, writes one teachers' leader

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It's not helpful, or indeed accurate, for the inspectorate to say in its annual report that schools are using their communities as an excuse for underperformance, writes one teachers' leader

Ofsted's annual report is always one of the biggest moments in the education calendar.

This year is no different. It's the first annual report from our new chief inspector and there have been signs of a change of approach under her leadership.

And so it has proved. Ofsted has recognised that the vast majority of schools perform well. As Amanda Spielman said herself, this is hardly going to make headlines, but it does need to be reported, celebrated and considered.

From my perspective, this success is down to the superhuman efforts of the teachers and leaders up and down the country. They provide a first-class education for children against the backdrop of austerity and all the added pressures that this brings.

Ms Spielman did talk about "disadvantage oneupmanship". She asserted that schools are using their social context as an excuse for underperformance. This assertion is not accurate or helpful.

Social inequality

It is no coincidence that the very small number of struggling schools serve the most disadvantaged communities, despite the tireless efforts of teachers and school leaders to improve outcomes. The issues that underpin social inequality reach far beyond the school gates. Decades of joblessness for families in these areas and low social mobility, in general, are not factors to ignore.

Many leaders working in challenging circumstances tell us that teacher recruitment and high-stakes, low-trust accountability regime is part of the problem.

Ofsted’s supportive narrative is welcome, but it will be some time before the culture of fear begins to change. Leaders and teachers need absolute confidence that the inspection system will treat them fairly and recognise the significant challenges in striving to transform life chances for the most disadvantaged in society.

Schools cannot do it alone. They need cooperation and support beyond the gates and a joined-up approach to ensure all young people are given the best chance to succeed.

A collaborative approach

And so, another annual report is laid before parliament. The chief inspector summarises the state of the nation.

In Ofsted's 25-year history, we've seen substantial improvement in our schools. School leaders and their teams create the success in the system. I am pleased that Ofsted has measured that success and recognised progress.

But, in the future, if Ofsted wants to play a really constructive role in school improvement, it needs to build on the more collaborative approach that Amanda Spielman has begun. That is to be welcomed. That will make an enormous difference to all pupils in the state system now – and in the future. 

Paul Whiteman is general secretary designate of the NAHT headteachers’ union. He tweets @PaulWhiteman6

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