It's Ofsted - get us a celebrity

16th May 2008 at 01:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole
The wisdom of Henry Walpole

According to research published by the National Association of Head Teachers, 86 per cent of school leaders think Ofsted pressures deter would-be heads. Presumably, the other 14 per cent are deterred by the prospect of endless conversations with the school caretaker about the heating boiler.

Of course, a head's position remains relatively secure in a school where all you have to do is turn up, do a normal job, and watch the 80 per cent Sats scores roll in.

So why would anyone take a job in a school with a substantial amount of parents who - euphemism alert - are "not that interested in education"?

It's fine if you are at the top of the cohort rollercoaster ride when Ofsted visits; the recent results are all down to your brave initiatives. But, bearing in mind that the ride fluctuates wildly, if a visit coincides with a downward slope of results, your career is pretty much over.

Heads of schools with a ropey intake are usually so desperate by the time Ofsted comes that they begin to wonder if they can turn their graphs upside down before presenting them.

Is this really what the job has become? We need to release heads from this slavery to statistics to carry out their core tasks, like deciding the colour scheme for the new infant toilets.

Complaints about the punitive nature of Ofsted are nothing new, but the blinkered focus on results is. Heads are regularly told a school can't achieve a "good" grading for teaching (no matter what inspectors observe) if the Sats results are deemed "unsatisfactory".

Apparently Ofsted is now extending its remit even further, inspecting children's homes, adult learning and fostering agencies. Hell, it's probably making plans to inspect the fish and chip shop at the end of my street as we speak. ("I see that you have put your jar of pickled eggs near the cash till. Have you made reference to that in your development planning*?")

How can Ofsted improve its Mr Nasty image? The short-notice inspection is supposed to capture a snapshot, yet there is still a pressure for everything to be outstanding.

Ofsted needs to recognise the well-known phenomenon of HRLs (hangover recovery lessons): children involved in silent tasks with minimum input.

Don't lie to me. I know you have played "statues" in that PE lesson while you have waited for the paracetemol to kick in.

I also propose to give staff a greater sense of what inspectors are looking for by changing the gradings to "outstanding", "good", "meh" and "Walpole".

The only solution this Government understands is to bring in a celebrity. Sir Alan Sugar for head of Ofsted, although I can foresee a problem at his "meet the staff session" when he delivers his customary line of: "I don't like bullshitters."

More from Henry in a fortnight.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today