When the draft inspection framework came out yesterday, I skipped to one section in particular – sections 51-56, on on-site preparation.
This is the section in which Ofsted – to make the inspection process less stressful – share their plans to turn up at your office door 150 minutes after they’ve called you. Don’t worry, they won’t stay for long – just long enough to do some paperwork, tell you what documentation they require from you by 8am the next morning and who they want to speak to.
They will then head off by 5pm leaving you enough time to rest, head to your yoga class, pick up the kids from childcare and enjoy a bubble bath accompanied by a large glass of rioja before a night of deep and peaceful slumber. Because they *care* about your workload, people.
I’m sorry, but who on Earth do Ofsted think they are treating professionals so disrespectfully?
I know that the inspectorate have a number of serving headteachers working for them at the moment, so I find it utterly incomprehensible that they have no idea of how busy schools and school leaders are.
Do they really think that schools leaders sit around, twiddling their thumbs, with an empty schedule for the afternoon – and the next few days – waiting for the phone to ring and for the inspectors to arrive? Do they not understand that our time is already hard-pressed and that we have serious responsibilities to our school communities that cannot just be abandoned at the drop of a hat?
In the last few weeks my afternoons have consisted of: teaching; meetings for child protection, children in need and looked after children; job interviews; police interviews; sitting on local authority exclusion panels; visiting other schools; meeting with parents; having a minor medical procedure; hosting international academics and attending conferences. And then of course, there’s the bits and pieces which make up the unpredictable day job.
Some of these are rearrangeable, but that requires doing so with minutes' notice and impacting people whose time is also important. Before anyone suggests that someone else could just cover them from me, let me point you towards our financial situation: we’ve suffered badly from budget cuts over the last few years, and as a school we are at the bare bones. But of course – these funding cuts haven’t made a difference to schools, have they?
While in all these scenarios I would be able to find a way to carve out an hour of time to talk to an inspector over the phone, it is entirely unnecessary to spent four and half hours with someone explaining to me in person what is already written down in the framework.
I would hope that headteachers are competent enough to read the document. I’m going to need time with my staff to make the necessary rearrangements in order to accommodate Ofsted and their demands. My staff also have their own responsibilities professionally and personally to attend to.
So what exactly is the purpose of these (essentially) no-notice inspections?
Evidence shows that the best schools are ones in which cultures of trust flourish.
Ofsted’s proposal screams of distrust. They clearly don’t trust school leaders, and personally, I am utterly fed up with the paranoid measures that try to catch us out.
If you really want to know what is going on in schools, remove the judgements and come in for open conversations which don’t make us fearful for our job security.
School leaders in this country work under enormous strain and are increasingly asked to address a wider remit than just education to solve society's ills.
While it makes for an exciting career, I for one am not going to stick around in a job where I could spend up to two years tied to my desk waiting for a phone call because "we’re due" rather than being actively out there trying to improve my own school and the wider system.
So please Ofsted, try showing a little polite consideration to school leaders instead of turning up unannounced.
Because there are easier ways to make a living and I will be looking for them if this proposal goes through.
The writer is a headteacher in London