'The new Ofsted boss must get to know what really happens in classrooms, corridors and staffrooms'

10th June 2016 at 17:02
Geoff Barton on the new ofsted chief inspector
We need stability from the inspectorate and a very real understanding of what goes on in schools – and less focus on PowerPoint presentations, writes one leading headteacher

I would like to welcome Amanda Spielman to one of education’s more high-profile roles as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector. Nicky Morgan describes her as "uniquely qualified", and I hope that assessment is right, because time is running out for the beleaguered inspectorate to regain its sense of credibility with the profession. And, of course, without us – teachers and school leaders – standards in schools will never rise.

Ms Spielman, therefore, has quite a job ahead of her. Many of us have tired of an approach that has been quick to criticise but slow to praise. There’s been far more pontificating than listening. Inspections have been bedevilled by deep-rooted inconsistencies.

And while Sir Michael Wilshaw made undoubted efforts to address some of these issues, ably supported by a more media-savvy team at his top table, it’s going to take some time to regain a sense from school leaders that Ofsted is actually on our side.

In truth, from where I sit, it’s hard to see that Ofsted has had any direct role in helping people like me to do my job better – that is, to recruit more teachers, to retain them, and to keep our eye firmly on improving real teaching and learning, rather than encouraging quick-fix gimmicks.

Too often, the endless reinvention of inspection schedules has generated much absurd hoop-jumping. For a while a few years back, we actually thought that teaching could be judged in 20-minute blocks of progress. Why did we ever fall for that? Because that was the way Ofsted told us it measured teaching quality.

So we need some stability from Ofsted.

Perceptions of Ofsted

And we need school leaders and teachers to keep the status of Ofsted in realistic perspective. For that, we should look to our parents, who generally regard Ofsted as far less important in deciding their child’s school than we might have supposed.

Ofsted probably, therefore, matters far less than we realise. It probably deserves to soak up far less attention, angst and public funding.

Amanda Spielman’s touchstone should, therefore, be whether the organisation is actually helping us to improve our schools. Her background in corporate finance may, in that regard, make her uniquely qualified, as Ms Morgan suggests; though, in truth, it might not have been my first choice of profession for a schools inspector.

Her background could, however, mean that, being an outsider,  she spends the next six months getting to know the issues in schools with the forensic detachment of an outsider. In particular, she should get to understand the realities of different forms of state schools – academy, maintained, coastal, rural, urban and so on – so that we are on the receiving end of fewer broadbrush caricatures.

Ms Spielman has six months before the Chief Inspector’s crown is hers. Running and working in schools is both challenging and inspiring. It’s never as simple as an air-conditioned London office might suggest.

I hope she’ll spend most of her time in classrooms, in corridors, in lunch queues, in schools and academies across England, rather than locked in meetings looking at PowerPoint presentations.

I wish her every success.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School, a 14-18 comprehensive school in Suffolk. He tweets as @realgeoffbarton

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