As I sit on the train on my way to a meeting in London I spot an article in the Metro that claims that ‘Women are the real task masters’. Apparently, according to a well-known skincare company, us men can only manage 19 tasks a day compared with 26 for a woman. Not only do they manage to pack in 7 more tasks, the report confirms that women also get the shopping done and do the cooking. Every day. Meanwhile, the men are down the pub and watching sport, both of which are listed by the way as 2 of the 19 tasks. The report is inconclusive as to what the other 17 involve.
Despite appearing disadvantaged by virtue of being male, it does reassure me somewhat, in that it explains why at times I feel as if I’ve got nothing done. I’m not entirely sure how a ‘task’ is defined, but already today I’ve completed at least 9 and it’s not even lunchtime. Ten if you include the writing of this blog, so I’m on track to exceed the daily 19. I’m very pleased with this, until I remember that the woman sitting opposite me (doing nothing I might add) has done a lot more than me already. This is probably why she is looking rather smug, as she too has read the article and knows she is ahead.
Reflecting on this, I think this might be why, when inspecting a school, it always seems as if my fellow team members are getting a lot more done than me (male or female). By lunchtime on day one, they will invariably have amassed an impressive wodge of completed EFs whilst I clearly haven’t. I calm myself down by reminding myself that it’s quality that counts, despite experiencing levels of stress that at times are unparalleled. You see, as hard as it might seem to believe, being an Ofsted inspector is very, very stressful. Not because it’s unnecessarily difficult, but simply because you want to get it right.
I will never forget my ‘sign-off’ inspection in 2007. As a rookie inspector you enter the arena with confidence and poise. But deep down, I had never felt more nervous – more so than any interview I’d ever had. You’ve been trained, you’ve completed your ‘shadow’ inspection, and so – quite rightly – the HMI leading the team (and who is scrutinising your every move) expects you to get on with it. You collect your blank EFs from the team room, are given the areas you are leading on, a timetable, map of the school and off you go.
I still feel the same way now. The stakes are so considerably high that nothing less than exceptional performance on my part is acceptable. I have to get it right. The team has to get it right. When I did my training with Tribal, the trainer instilled in us a mantra that we must always abide by: Do good as you go. Having recently at the time been on the receiving end of several quite bruising inspections, I found this laughable. Since when have Ofsted done good as they went? It never felt like that for me when on the receiving end.
The reason I am on my way to London is to attend a meeting with the Whole Education Network to refine their existing Peer Review process. I’ve written about the virtues of peer review before and very much see it as the way ahead for inspection, especially for those outstanding schools that are now exempt. As I see it, one of the many advantages of a Whole Education Peer Review is that you feel as a headteacher that good has been very much done unto you. It is system-led and impact driven, focussing entirely on the core purposes of education. If we can avoid the pitfalls of the cosy-fireside-chat syndrome, then in terms of doing good, peer review is here to stay.
‘Do good as you go’ stuck with me and I try to carry it with me at all times, none more so than when inspecting a school. It is now one of the five core values of the trust that I lead and is a key driver in creating the ethos and culture. At a recent Ofsted training event, Sean Harford (Ofsted’s National Director of Schools) alluded to much the same thing. He said that inspectors require not only a ‘fierce intellect but also an impeccable bedside manner’. He is right.
So, as the 2015 inspection window opens a week from today, I hope that amidst all the pressures of a new framework, the 1500-strong inspection team remember this. I’m sure they will because it’s been drilled into us by HMI at recent CIF training events and regional national conferences. The new inspection framework feels very different in approach than previous ones. We all know that the process of inspection is flawed in so many ways. But as we move forward into another new framework with the assumption that good schools are just that, I am confident that if we get it right, a lot more good will be done as we go.
As a serving practitioner I feel very reassured by this and I hope you do too.