When will someone at Ofsted say “Stop”?

Those of a broadly similar age to me may well remember the fake ads in the middle of episodes of the Fast Show.

Do you like cheese?
Do you like peas?
Then you’ll love… Cheesy Peas!

A classic case of having too much of a good thing – or at least, the wrong combinations of “good things”. The parallels with Ofsted may not be immediately clear – but let me eek out an analogy all the same.

Just this week on Twitter, @cazzypot shared her excellent blog on the latest nonsense of a tick-box for ‘British Values’. I asked the DfE to consider it as evidence for their Workload Challenge, which to their credit, they did. I did so, because it is yet another example of schools adding to workload and systems for the sake of evidence.

But how does this link to cheesy peas? Bear with me.

To be fair to the inspectorate, they are often not as responsible for ‘expecting’ schools to do things as some might think or claim. Indeed, they have gone so far as to release a clarification of what they don’t expect. But that will never be enough. Because all the time schools are being praised for what they do do, and criticized for what they don’t do, there is no incentive for schools to reduce requirements. Indeed, every time an Ofsted report praises something, it is likely that such a task or approach will be added to the workload of teachers in other nearby schools. And when they criticize another for failing to do something – lo and behold every other nearby school will add another new task to their list.

The problem is, like cheese and peas, simply adding more and more ‘Good Things’ doesn’t automatically produce a better outcome. Many schools are doing good things, and rightly that gets recognised. Many schools are wasting time doing pointless things: expecting detailed lesson plans, unwieldy evaluation pro formas, ridiculous pseudo-scientific ideas, and so on.  But until an Ofsted report ever points such things out as being unnecessary, or even burdensome, what incentive or direction is there for leadership teams to reduce the demands?

Of course, as I have said before, school leaders should take some of the blame. But the system doesn’t help them to differentiate between what is necessary, and what is gimmicky, but might garner a tick on the Ofsted form.

Just because a school where they happen to use cheese is doing well, and another when they happen to use peas is also doing well, doesn’t automatically imply that all schools ought to be using Cheesy Peas.

But who will be the first Ofsted inspector brave enough to tell a school to stop doing something?

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4 thoughts on “When will someone at Ofsted say “Stop”?

  1. cazzypot2013 11 December 2014 at 10:27 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. dodiscimus 11 December 2014 at 11:50 pm Reply

    Cheesy peas are delicious but the rest of what you say is spot on. That is something Ofsted could take on board though. The trouble is that Ofsted don’t see the school on a day-to-day basis and their grade matters, but I can see some potential for asking teachers privately about excessive demands and pointless evidence-gathering. I think only schools with leadership problems would have more than the odd maverick teacher prepared to drag the school’s grade down but it might allow Ofsted to at least pick up some examples of poor practice. However, I wouldn’t want Ofsted dictating that teachers shouldn’t triple mark or whatever. Some teachers might choose to do that – they shouldn’t be penalised for it any more than for choosing not to do lots of groupwork. Best thing is for Ofsted to find ways to remove the perverse pressures and focus on good leadership leading to contented teachers. Best wishes.

  3. Rob Brown 12 December 2014 at 5:41 pm Reply

    An inspector once said to me: “I know an outstanding school because they have everything we need whenever I ask for it and it only takes me a few minutes to read it” This final statement is the interesting bit. He was implying that the truly best schools were in no doubt what they needed to evidence and did not bring him “bundles of paper to wade through”. Inspectors certainly notice it. You are right that they need to start commenting about it.

  4. gazdenman 14 December 2014 at 11:47 pm Reply

    I saw a report which said that the way jumpers for goal posts were being used at break times was ‘marvellous’ and that loads of other stuff was just ‘brilliant’, including the milk!

    Love your posts Michael, really affecting some of the ways we do things at my school and helping shape conversations with colleagues. This post will be another one to ponder.
    Thank you,
    Gareth Denman

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