Why we need to pause the campaign to pause Ofsted

There are plenty of problems with the inspectorate, says Michael Tidd, but non-cooperation won't address any of them

Michael Tidd

Pressing pause: why we should stop the campaign to 'pause' Ofsted

After several years as a column writer, and a blogger before that, I know that some things I write get more traction than others. 

As a general rule of thumb, the articles that quickly become social media hits are those that highlight a problem caused by some part of “the establishment”, which rings true for teachers in all sorts of settings.

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A good blog criticising a ridiculous situation caused by the Department for Education, or a critique of Sats paperwork always goes down well.

For that reason alone, it would seem sensible to ride the coattails of the campaign to “pause Ofsted”, and to write something that aligns with that view. 

There’s plenty of scope for a critique of the damage done by rogue inspectors (“Those who can’t teach, inspect”), or the knock-on effect on workload. And there would be plenty of readers – particularly those “in the window” – who would appreciate it.

But I don’t think the campaign is the right solution to whatever the problems of Ofsted might be.

By all means, criticise Ofsted

Identifying the problems is the first hurdle. There are plenty of potential criticisms, but that would be true of the DfE, local authorities, and most senior leadership teams. We don’t propose pausing any of them, tempting as it might be. 

For the campaign to be effective, it must be clear what the objections to the current form of the inspectorate are.

Now that the campaign has broadened – garnering support from the NEU teaching union, among others – the likelihood is that there is ever-less agreement on what the preferred outcome might be. 

Some might be hoping that the intended pause brings some attention to their views or causes some thinking at Ofsted HQ; others might have more radical intentions for scrapping the inspectorate altogether, or at least significantly overhauling it.

The campaign led by the Headteachers’ Roundtable doesn’t propose either of these outcomes. It merely argues that the system is broken, and suggests a kind of moral imperative on school leaders not to participate. 

Presumably, it works on the premise that those headteachers and other senior leaders who have, up until now, participated in inspections, share the view that the system is broken but had decided to carry on supporting it anyway, which strikes me as odd.

Uncertain goals

What’s more, if lots of school leaders do withdraw their services from Ofsted, I’m not sure what will be achieved. If the system really is causing great damage to schools and their leadership, surely it is those who work in schools who are best placed to spot and challenge that. 

Reducing their availability for inspection won’t bring the system to a halt (even if that’s what the campaign slogan suggests), but it might mean more inspections without any working school leaders involved.

If the aim is to disrupt the inspectorate, then something may well be achieved – but at what stage does the campaign come to a close? 

If it aims to achieve something more concrete, then presumably the Headteachers’ Roundtable needs to have some goal in mind that would allow it to change the moral standpoint.

I’ve no doubt that the move is well-intentioned, and based on examples of inspections that the headteachers involved feel have been unfair or unproductive. But I’m afraid I don’t believe the campaign will change that.

I am sure that Ofsted could be improved. But to make changes, we must identify specific issues and propose solutions. 

This campaign appears to do neither of those things. And so I rather suspect it will peter out, achieving little, other than to add to a general noise of complaint from the profession about being inspected.

And that’s not a good look from the outside.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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