Hard act to balance

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
I could have written this at any point over the past four years. I suppose the catalyst must be our recent Ofsted inspection.

As a head there are a multitude of challenges waiting to test your resolve, patience, managerial skills and at times "beliefs". These occur in no particular order and range from finance, curriculum, personnel and premises issues to wet pants, blocked drains, and sheep on your field. Resolving these are among the most rewarding aspects of the job: however, any head also has one eye on the national agenda, new initiatives and of course, Ofsted. It is this balancing act which is almost impossible: addressing what you as a leader knows needs doing, and also what has to be done to keep Ofsted or the DfES or the LEA happy.

Is what Ofsted wants really what the DfES is asking? Is it right for your school? Are these agencies aware of the initiative overload, and that one organisation has to implement them all? Too many heads have tried to keep all areas bubbling and are not focused sharply enough on one or two key areas. But to do this you have to drop something else, which Ofsted then homes in on and highlights.

With such a very negative system strengths are not being recognised as equally as weaknesses. This affects motivation, and has a knock-on effect on recruitment and retention. It's not that Ofsted gets it wrong, it's that the process is unbalanced, not openly recognising the positive.

Why is the process still negative in the third framework? Any system where the pre-inspection commentary using Panda grades alone decides the quality of teaching in a school before inspection, using the inspection to support the data and ignoring other views, must be suspect.

The main lesson to me seems to be to have the strength to believe in what you want for your school and to be strong enough to ignore some initiatives - to prioritise. I suggest heads lead their schools by doing what they believe is right - fun, topic-based lessons, strong and tight in literacy and numeracy, a heavy emphasis on cross-curricular creativity within a curriculum that creates time for teachers to teach and develop confidence and for children to learn and think in all areas. Ofsted has unwittingly taught many heads that they should revert to what they know works.

Ofsted needs to recognise the progress which has been made, maximising the chances of the school moving forward and keeping an enthusiastic workforce.

Can someone help them understand this?

Stuart Graver is head of Middle Rasen primary school, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. Send Sounding Off contributions to susan.young@tes.co.uk

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