Despite the title of this post, it doesn’t feel like a victory. But in the end, it all came down to this: Either I continue to inspect and work for Ofsted, or I blog. It seems I can’t do both.
Or rather, I can do both, providing I refrain from writing about the inspection process and expect future posts to be doctored by Ofsted.
So, after seven years as an inspector, I’ve resigned from Ofsted. Blog won.
This is how it happened. I received a call six weeks ago from the office of a senior national director at Ofsted. I was informed that someone had referred them to my blog. I was told that despite the fact that she ‘quite enjoyed’ the post, there were sections that were ‘not befitting of an inspector’. The gist of the conversation was that they needed to be removed. The charge list was then read back to me, each incriminating sentence taken out of context. One such example was that I referred to the fact that the ‘process of inspection is flawed’. I tried to mildly protest that were someone to read the blog in its entirety, it is actually a pro-Ofsted piece. The clue is in the title: Doing good as we go. Not good enough apparently, because when someone reads the sentence out of context, the unfortunate reader will get the impression that it is anti-Ofsted. I suggested that it’s dangerous to quote out of context and is rather disingenuous.
I tried to make it clear that I did not criticise Ofsted as an organisation, but instead the process of inspection per se. I’d be just as critical of peer review if the conditions were not right. Even as a headteacher in my own schools, the very nature of judging performance is flawed. Again, not good enough. I tried to remonstrate by making the point that being critical of inspection is no different from a teacher being critical of assessment. The very fact that they blog to that effect would not mean they had to resign from their post as a teacher. It would not be seen as a criticism of their employer.
It was obvious that Ofsted had already made their decision prior to informing me. My views were not relevant. As a last ditch effort, I reminded her that the blog is not associated with Ofsted in any way, but again, she was adamant. It had to be cropped. (I was going to say that I’ve probably written a lot worse in previous blogs, but thought best not to.)
I was being censured, gagged, call it what you like. However much I value the experience of inspecting schools, and trying to improve the process from within, I would much rather retain my right to write freely. So I resigned.
Most bizarrely, one of the incriminating comments I made was that I referred to the Ofsted teamroom and the writing of Evidence Forms whilst in a school. I mustn’t do this apparently, as it gives away the inner workings of an inspection. Presumably, none of you are aware of this, and were always wondering what it was that went on during your meetings with inspectors in the said teamroom. Full of EFs.
I’m particularly disappointed because it’s been so refreshing to read about the sterling efforts on Twitter of the likes of Sean Harford – and Mike Cladingbowl before him – to demystify the inspection process. It’s encouraging to read about the more personable side of HMI, who seem to be going to great lengths to reassure schools that we are beginning to take back ownership of the flawed process of inspection (there, I’ve said it again). If you are in any doubt about this, remind yourself of the number of revised frameworks we’ve had over the past five years. If you are still unconvinced, check out the research by Professor Rob Coe (such as here). Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, have a read of Watching the Watchmen. I’ve read all of these. It’s such a shame that as an inspector I am not allowed to mention them in a blog.
When I signed up to become an inspector, I thought I could change things from within. As a headteacher, I was tired of colleagues complaining about the quality of inspectors. ‘They’ve never run a school and don’t know what it’s like!’ they’d bemoan. They were probably right, to be honest, so one day I decided to do something about it and join them. Get inside the tent and reform from within, in an attempt at giving the process some credibility. I tried to get my colleagues to join me, but they wouldn’t. I’d turned. I’d joined the dark side.
Having made the difficult decision to resign, I wrote to the national director almost a month ago, outlining my concerns about the matter and to question Ofsted’s decision to censure my blog. It also served as a heartfelt resignation letter. I haven’t received a reply, although I did receive a terse two-line email from his office confirming that Ofsted have permanently suspended my inspector status with immediate effect.
Despite the overwhelming support on Twitter last week (and from my Board), the more I think about it, right now it actually feels like Ofsted won after all. Surely a wiser person would have compromised and tried to do both? I do feel as if I’ve cut my nose off. Trust me, the blog is entirely inconspicuous, and hardly pulling up trees, let alone worth resigning over. But unlike my blog, at least when I was out in schools inspecting, I really did feel as if I was making a tiny bit of difference. In my own small way, I was doing good as I go.
It all seems rather a waste of time now.