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:
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.