Why Ofsted should get in touch with its inner accountant

11th March 2011 at 00:00
Leading head to call for inspectors to adopt a more supportive, less 'bullying' role

Ofsted inspectors should be more like helpful chartered accountants and less like bullying tax inspectors, a leading headteacher is due to tell a major conference today.

John Fairhurst, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, was due to make the comments as he outlined his vision for an inspection system that helps schools to improve, rather than making them "over-sensitive and over-defensive".

The head, who had a spell as a student accountant in the 1970s, will say he longs for the sort of "simple, supportive audit mechanism" provided by accountants who examine and sign off company books.

"But it didn't stop there," he will tell the gathering of hundreds of secondary school leaders in Manchester. "The senior accountant wrote a management letter advising the directors of what they needed to do next. He would talk to them, too, over a period, offering constructive advice and answering questions whenever the directors felt the need.

"Then, the following year, they came back to check again - usually the same team who have got to know the client well, warts and all.

"Something along these lines must be possible for schools and colleges. Why can't Ofsted be modelled on the supportively professional chartered accountant, rather than the bullies of the (admittedly now defunct) Customs and Excise?"

He will say Ofsted needs to put greater emphasis on schools' self-evaluation, and helping them to deal with the issues they raise. He will say: "Too many schools feel thumped on so many sides and by so many different critics, they are now over-sensitive and over-defensive."

His comments come as the Commons education select committee begins its review of Ofsted's role and performance. In addition, a new framework rolled out from September will reduce the number of areas the inspectorate scrutinises from 27 to four.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Fairhurst, who is on secondment from his job as headteacher of Shenfield High in Brentwood, Essex, will also highlight his concerns that the national curriculum review, which intends to "free up" teachers, will be undermined by an obsession with testing. He will say: "The system impinges destructively upon the curriculum and innovative, inspirational pedagogy, and unless the system changes it will continue to do so, whatever curriculum is in place."

Mr Fairhurst said the new English Baccalaurate, imposed after exam results were published last summer, was leading schools to change their curriculum to maintain their league-table positions.

He will say: "My school has invested a lot of effort in recasting our curriculum to suit the full range of our intake. But I know of a lot of others, under pressure from Ofsted or predatory competitors, who have felt the need to do exactly that."

ASCL Conference

Gove grilled

Secondary heads in the vanguard of Michael Gove's academy programme are today due to question the education secretary on his policies.

Although the ASCL is openly supportive of many of his reforms, he could face tough questions.

Before Mr Gove's speech this afternoon, ASCL president John Fairhurst will tell heads: "A significant concern for us is that the freedoms on offer are being differentiated.

"We oppose the 'Me, Myself, I' school that attempts to advantage itself in defiance of the common good of the other young people in the town."

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