Ofsted is a threat to our mental health, not a saviour

Ofsted investigating teacher wellbeing is like the coronavirus investigating its impact on global health, says Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty

Teacher mental health: How can Ofsted protect our wellbeing?

Many were a bit shaken this week to hear Ofsted pledging to do all that it can to “protect and enhance” our mental and physical health

In the latest charter committed to helping those of us working in education, it declares that it is going to “take staff wellbeing into account in coming to judgements”. It will also consider “whether the [inspection] framework is having inadvertent impacts” on that wellbeing.  

Some might regard such a statement as shameless, disingenuous hypocrisy. In other news, the coronavirus has similarly agreed to investigate its own possible “inadvertent” impact on global welfare, while still committing to doing “all it can” to damage that global welfare. It’s certainly a nuanced position.  

How can Ofsted help teacher mental health?

There’s also some breaking news from Napoleon Bonaparte. He has just marked the recent 200th anniversary of his death by issuing a press release stating that, “if he could have his time again”, he would now fully take into account the physical and mental health of his opponents, and then kill them.  

Napoleon believes that he would still have gone ahead with his notorious, 24-hour notice invasions, but that he would now “take every step possible” to ensure that the “invasion framework” was not causing anyone any “undue pain or anxiety”. 

But let’s suppose, for a moment, that we do take the Ofsted declaration more seriously. Let’s imagine that it does turn into an additional feature of the inspection. It doesn’t sound good for either party, does it?  

Never mind all the other associated anxieties of an impending visit, surely the mere prospect of an inspector monitoring our mental and physical selves is going to be enough to send collective staff health plummeting?

A psychoanalytical deep dive

What form will their assessment of staff take? I have only just got my head around their notion of a subject-related deep dive. Do I now have to be ready for their more psychoanalytical sequel, Deep Dive 2: Just when you thought it was safe? 

Will I now have to lie down on some Ofsted-supplied leather couch and answer a series of questions read out to me by the poor guy who thought he was just coming in to inspect maths? 

In which case, should I really own up to the rather haunting dream I had recently of somehow finding myself naked in school (other than a helpful face mask) and trying desperately to escape without anyone spotting me? And is that the kind of illustrative tale that might now turn up in their report, written up in formal Ofstedese? 

But if there is one thing that this latest weird and other-worldly declaration from Ofsted tells us, it is that Ofsted itself plainly needs even more help and support than we do. 

While most schools have shown over the past year that they are self-driven, self-improving and do not need inspectorate adjectives to offer the best they can for their children, the flipside is that Ofsted has been found out to be of no real use or relevance to the vast majority of schools.  

This is a shame, as I know that many able and highly experienced people work there. But until Ofsted rethinks and remodels itself as something that is formative, supportive and non-judgmental, the body is wasteful of their expertise and will continue to lay waste to many people’s wellbeing.   

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

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