Revealed: Ofsted 'split' between leaders and inspectors

EXCLUSIVE: HMI says inspectors who are former headteachers are concerned about Ofsted school visits this term

John Roberts

Coronavirus and schools: One HMI says that Ofsted plans for school visits have revealed a divide between Ofsted inspectors, who understand the pressure on schools, and the watchdog's leadership

Ofsted has a “clear divide” between its senior inspectors, who are former teachers and school leaders, and its political leadership, who are not, insiders have told Tes.

One senior HMI (Her Majesty's inspector), who has asked to remain anonymous, said this split has been exposed by the plan for Ofsted to return into schools later this month for new checks.

He warned that the inspectorate’s leadership does not understand the pressure that these visits will put on to school leaders at a time when they already under huge strain because of the coronavirus

The comments come amid mounting criticism of Ofsted's plan to publish a letter outlining its findings about each school that it visits this term on its reports website. 

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Unions and the National Governance Association have urged Ofsted to rethink its plans for a published letter.

Now Tes can reveal that members of Ofsted’s own inspections team also have concerns about the pressure that these plans will put on schools.

Ofsted visits 'will put more pressure on to schools'

The HMI who spoke out to Tes said: “Ofsted has these visits planned and the problem is nobody is quite sure what the purpose of them is.

“There are some HMI who are looking forward to going back into schools but there are some who are really worried about putting extra pressure on to schools when the last thing schools need is somebody adding pressure.

“There is a real difference in Ofsted – a clear divide between the political leadership and some of the HMI. HMI have qualified teacher status, they were former school leaders and they understand the pressure that is in schools in a way that the political leadership of Ofsted do not.”

The inspector said this split reflected the way the organisation had changed under the leadership of the current chief inspector, Amanda Spielman.

He said: “This has changed over time. If you look back at when Sir Michael Wilshaw was the chief inspector, some people might not have liked some of what he said but he had a record of success leading two schools, which you could not argue with.

“Before that Christine Gilbert [as chief inspector] had the ideal skill set because she had been a school leader, a director of children’s services and a council leader.

“Now it feels like the leadership of Ofsted is increasingly from a civil service or political background and you can see that when you look at the number of people who have this background at director or deputy director level.”

Ms Spielman is only the second person to hold the role of Her Majesty's chief inspector not to have a background in teaching, following the very first HMCI, Lord Sutherland.

The inspector who spoke to Tes said some HMI were concerned that the publication of a letter at the end of the visit will also add to the stress faced by school leaders.

And he questioned why this was necessary.

“This is going to be a stress-inducing element of the visits and we don’t really see the need for a letter if we are not going to be making any judgements. It will add to the pressure for school leaders and seems to be at odds with what they need.”

Jules White, a secondary head who leads the funding campaign group of school leaders WorthLess?, said: "This HMI is absolutely spot on in what they say.

"These visits and the plan for a return to full inspection in January do make the profession feel that Ofsted do not understand the pressure on schools at the moment in a way that some HMI do.

"Ofsted should be redeployed in a completely different way to support schools and share best practice this year."

The plan for a published letter has been strongly criticised by the NAHT school leaders' union, the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Governance Association, which have said it will add to the pressure on schools.

In a joint letter, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT; Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, and Emma Knights, chief executive of the NGA, said: "It is surely not too much to ask that schools are given at least one term’s grace from Ofsted processes, however framed, so that they can focus on the very demanding job of reintegrating pupils, and we ask you to reconsider your plans."

An Ofsted spokesperson said: "Our visits this term are not inspections. They are not judgemental, they are not graded and they require no preparation whatsoever by schools.

"They are important because they will allow us to report on the national picture throughout the autumn so that parents, the sector and the government get a rounded and independent picture of how education is getting back on its feet.

"As part of our preparation for the autumn term, we are working hard to train and support Her Majesty’s Inspectors as they prepare for visits , and we’ve had open and constructive conversations with all the relevant unions.”



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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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