2 min read
08 Dec

I’ve just finished speaking on this morning’s Radio 4 Today programme and I’m lost for words. 

I was invited on last night to talk about the future of Ofsted following the damming report from the Coroner in regard to headteacher colleague, Ruth Perry. I was hoping that by sleeping on it, my thoughts would be clearer, but they weren’t. 

It really is beyond belief that we’ve allowed the situation to become as bad as it is. Even though we‘ve known this has been coming for years – decades even – it’s taken such tragic circumstances for people to finally listen and realise how bad it is. 

But will they? Ofsted are expert at gaslighting as are their puppet masters, the government. We’ll have all the trademark rhetoric churned out in the next few days, awash with the usual textbook pith of pity, praise and promise. It’ll go quiet, Christmas and new year will come and go, and then all things will return to normal. Just like it always does. 

Nothing will change, for the simple reason that there is no political desire to. 

Ruth’s legacy though must be that the house of cards finally tumbles. We need a complete root and branch rebuild. The tragic events must serve as the catalyst for change. 

We are well-placed to do so. The system has more than enough expert capacity to deliver an intelligent and humane accountability framework, where independent external review forms all but once slice of the pie. 

Despite their own hubris, Ofsted are not the sole arbiters of truth. External scrutiny has a role but only as part of a blended, holistic view of how good a school is. 

So how might we go about this? 

The solution is simple and it’s called The Knight Review. I was fortunate enough to be invited onto the advisory board that helped put the ‘Beyond Ofsted’ report together. Chaired by Lord Jim Knight, over the course of a year, we met a number of times at NEU HQ to consider a wide range of international research, all expertly digested and summarised by UCL professors. 

We consulted widely with the profession and held a number of focus group meetings to get a feel of what it was really like to be inspected. The evidence was as conclusive as it was damming. 

Ofsted is in need of major reform. 

I urge you to read the report. It’s not rocket science. There’s nothing in there that you’ve not seen before. A lot of the stuff has already been tried-and-tested, only to be quietly ditched as new governments emerge. 

Much of it is underpinned by the seminal best-selling book  ‘Schools must speak for themselves’ by Professor John MacBeath, that in 2024 turns 25. We really have been here so many times before when it comes to making the case for school self-evaluation. 

Here then is a summary of the ‘Beyond Ofsted’ recommendations: 

  • Every school takes back control of self-evaluation through an SPR –  a school performance review. Grades will be ditched and accountability will be primarily to parents and stakeholders.
  • Each school will be provided with a SIP – a school improvement partner (either by a trust or LA). The majority of these will be serving headteachers who build a relationship with the school. SIPs will validate and affirm the SPR.
  • The purpose of the SPR is to drive the capacity to improve. It forms no part of the accountability arrangements to Ofsted or the DfE.
  • Safeguarding audits will be completed annually by a national independent body. They will be expertly trained in their field but not necessarily on school improvement. The public sector equality duty will remain. The audit serves purely as a compliance check. 
  • The role of external inspection will change. No longer will the focus be on pedagogy and pupil outcomes, but instead on governance and the capacity to drive school improvement through the SPR.
  • The inspectorate will be reformed to reflect this changing role. It will include inspectors who have a deep understanding and experience of the leadership of change and governance in a complex and challenging environment. This must include taking on schools in special measures, small schools, special schools, executive headship, multi-school organisations, early years, primary and secondary, alternative provision, etc.
  • Finally, the inspectorate must be fully independent of government so that not only can it be held to account through an independent appeals process, but can also - more crucially - hold the government to account, such as the sufficiency of teacher supply and school funding.

All of these are underpinned by an immediate moratorium. We need to pause, reflect, and take stock of where we are at in order to consult widely and genuinely with all stakeholders (parents and governors especially) in order to bring back trust and respect. This is not the time to rearrange the deckchairs.

Am I hopeful? Yes. Realistic? Probably not. But with the profession galvanised like never before, who knows. We owe it to Ruth.

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