There’s been a clear rehabilitation process over many months now, and both Mike Cladingbowl and Sean Harford have done a great deal to try to win over the support of the profession. But there is still a lot of damage to repair. Ofsted is not yet a friend of the profession at large.
And arguably, nor should it be. An inspectorate should not be too cosy with those whom it inspects. But it must garner the trust and respect of the profession if it is to achieve its best in raising standards within it.
In the past it definitely failed. Too often schools and teachers found themselves doing things for Ofsted which did not help children to make progress, and sometimes even distracted teachers from that all-important role. Ofsted was seen too often as a punitive scrutiny of the minutiae, rather than a healthcheck on the quality of provision in schools.
Hopefully things are changing. Three years ago, Tom Sherrington told us all:
Overlooking his scandalous failure to use the subjunctive form – clearly not secondary ready – it seemed a fair point. More recently, it’s a point that has often been echoed by Sean Harford:
Sean Harford (@HarfordSean) September 25, 2015
So is it time to let go of a difficult past and try to re-integrate Ofsted into our society?
Because the alternatives may be worse.
Nobody welcomes being inspected. It’s a necessarily high stakes event, and in some ways the fact that it’s carried out be real people can make it feel worse. But surely the evaluation of our work by real people has got to be better than evaluation by data?
We all know of plenty of stories of schools with good results using worrying practices, or schools with easy intakes failing to challenge their pupils. Equally, we can all see examples of schools struggling to crawl their way up league tables who are nevertheless achieving great things with the pupils in their care. An appropriate and well-managed inspection process can appreciate these variations, can discuss situations with schools, and can still offer the necessary challenge. True, it may not be perfect – indeed, for too long it hasn’t been.
But the alternatives may be worse.
Regional Schools Commissioners have an unmanageable number of schools to monitor and so have already shown themselves to be dependent on overly-simplistic numerical data with too little thought for the detail behind it. Performance tables can only ever show the narrowest of views of what a school achieves. And if we’re honest, as much as a mutual support structure would be a delight, we are very unlikely to see such a diminishment of central accountability.
It’s tempting to say “Better the devil you know…”, but if we think that Ofsted is the devil, that doesn’t give us a lot of metaphorical scope for the alternatives.
Be careful what you wish for.