Thursday, 11 December 2014

I Love Ofsted

Jed slept soundly. He had arrived late and I had guided him to his seat and given him the materials being used in the lesson. There weren’t many; it was 1979 and the queue for the banda machine was not unlike the Black Friday rush for TVs in ASDA. It was a well heated room up three flights of stairs and I understood that Jed may be tired; after all who knows the daily experience of others prior to our lessons. I let him sleep quietly on and the class soon forgot he was there. It wasn’t a bad lesson as I recall; I was probably doing something personal with a poem but regardless, Jed slept on. At the end of the lesson the class and I connived for them to leave really quietly, sharing the joke.

It was my first year of teaching in an interesting East London comprehensive so I woke the LEA advisor for English and newly qualified teachers and asked how he rated my lesson. Jed must have offered something but it wasn’t memorable. I was promoted 4 times in 9 years at that school and Jed’s dreamy assessment was the only time I was ever observed teach.

School management teams did not observe us; teacher tutors were yet to be invented and LEAs were weak on monitoring. We needed someone to observe good teaching and disseminate good practice rather than leaving each teacher in an island, and each school in a desert. Standards of teaching, discipline and management were poor in many schools. It would be another 13 years until Ofsted was created in 1992.

I was first observed by an Ofsted Inspector in the mid 1990s. Our head managed to successfully challenge 30 judgements made by lead inspector Valerie  and the report ended up as nonsense with half complete sentences. I passed her in the car park and for some reason I still don’t understand, the inspector told me that she would stalk me throughout my career. She left Ofsted soon afterwards.

Mynext inspectors, at Chauncy, were a local authority team who criticised a languages carousel that the deputy lead inspector, the local authority’s Languages advisor, had himself helped create.

The next team was led by a tweedy, bejewelled Lady Joan and a gentleman who was distraught to come across a tomato ketchup sachet that a child had stamped on. His emotional  upset was decisive.

Ofsted team number 4 told us we would need a value added up around 1030 to get an outstanding grade. When questioned at national level about a local school receiving the outstanding grade with a value added of 998 I was told that school had shown progress. A nearby school got Grade 1 overall seemingly because the courteous male head charmed the lead lady inspector. I’ve never charmed an Ofsted inspector in what is now 5 inspections.

“Chauncy is an exciting and inspiring place ,” declared lead inspector of Team 5. We benefitted from her background as an English teacher even if she didn’t like my repeatedly quoting the John Lennon title, “How do you sleep/”

Here’s a thing. You stand a better chance of a good written Ofsted Report if the inspector is an English graduate. Some of them can’t write and at least two have been found to have used the “cut and paste” technique (Academies Week 06-09-14)

A friend has  abandoned his own Ofsted Training in disgust when his school was unfairly inspected  last month. The lead inspector steadfastly refused to follow Ofsted rules and advice. Whatever the Ofsted guidance it is the lead inspector who interprets and can destroy.

Guess who you complain to if unhappy with  Ofsted nspectors? Well, Ofsted, of course.

A nearby Headteacher was told to shut up by an inspector shouting at her as he dismissed the school’s achievements. No less than Wilshaw himself invited her to his office so he could apologise for disgraceful Ofsted behaviour. Like bullies everywhere the brave Wilshaw didn’t turn up – at his own office.

I have two local colleagues upset by a Grade 2 (Good) Ofsted and mealy mouthed, semi- literate, negative prose . Their conduct on inspection had left a bitter taste and thoughts of alternative employment.

Teaching is such a joyous fulfilment for most teachers but just how powerful is the unjustified, data driven misrepresentation of a lifetime’s work that one can receive almost at the whim of an inspector.

Teachers all over the country are hounded by flapping headteachers preparing them for Ofsted. Meeting after endless, distracting, tiresome preparation for Ofsted meeting forcing teachers to worry about looking good to Ofsted rather than helping children learn. Teachers walk away from their vocation over Ofsted, and many headteachers have been sacked on poor reports.

It might be easier if the Head of Ofsted wasn’t’ a bully himself. I well remember visiting Wilshaw’s St Bons in Newham in the 1980s.  A school characterised by teachers on corridors shouting at point blank range at students. Discipline was very tough. Expectations of academic achievement were high and the school made great strides up the new league tables. There are those who think the ends justifiy the means.
Mossborne Academy was created for and by the now knightly Wilshire and expectations are fantastically high. The uniform is one of those nice expensive ones, students may not gather in groups larger than 3 and parents failing to attend admissions interviews have had their children’s school place declined. Illegal of course,  but the message is clear: you will do precisely what we say or you will leave.

Strangely the only employee from Mossborne I know, a teacher highly rated by the head  is almost useless. Maybe the ethos and student compliance can carry the weakest teachers.

I have many stories about Ofsted and even though my inspections have always given us “Good” you might think I just don’t like other people’s rules, measures of success or inspectors themselves. And you would be right: anarcho syndicalism is a state of heart and soul


Expel difficult children.
Don’t take weak kids into school.
Select at age 11.

And now to expand:

Billy was a troubled Year 7 child.  We worked with him until it was clear that we were doing nothing for him and he was spoilng others’ chances. We could easily have expelled him and he would be gone from all accountability measures. We knew that expulsion would druin him  so we found expensive alternative provision. Billy came back at the end of Year 11 to thank  us.

RAISE is the official booklet showing how different subjects and groups of students have achieved. Ofsted use Raise to condemn or praise schools, regardless of other aspects of education. In Raise, green is good; blue is bad.

Billy was the defining factor in turning 13 different categories blue. A more sensible Headteacher would have expelled him for the sake of Ofsted. I am fond of quoting songs and poems at inspectors, so when faced with the news that our success as humanitarians with Billy made us failures in their terms I gave them  some Owen:

“Was it for this the clay grew tall?
Oh, what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?.”

Ofsted thought I was speaking in tongues. The poem is called “Futility”

Google  “School Performance Tables” and you will see that secondary schools are measured on the ways different groups of children perform. How do SEN, Free School Meals, white boys with Level 3s at age 11 achieve in the school at age 16. Schools fail inspections if they don’t “close the gap.”

Wander round your local schools’ performance tables and wonder at the inclusion of SUPP (for suppressed)  This is where there are so few low attainers on entry at age 11 that the school has no significant gap to close.

Look at the most selective schools and you will see that they also have very few kids on Free School Meals, so no gap to close.

Look at Grammar schools and be in awe of how few disadvantaged kids are allowed in. The myth of  grammar schools aiding the escape from poverty of bright working class kids is borne out by their Raise, their government Performance Tables and their Ofsted reports.

Well done you schools.

Able children make more progress than the less able – controversial? To say that a child who has managed a Level 2 by the age of 11, having made 2 levels of progress in 6 years will be able to make 3 levels of progress in the next 5 years does not hold up mathematically and certainly not in practice. For a Level 5 child at age 11 to make 3 levels of progress in the next five years is comparatively easy. Ofsted will measure your school against levels of progress so I suggest you do what so many high achieving schools somehow, accidentally, manage – keep ‘em out.

And now, in colour for the first time in 28 blogs and  50,000 words ,in graphical form, the work by @JTrevorBurton taken from his” Eating Elephants” site.  Clearly, schools with a low average point score at age 11 really struggle to let Ofsted see them as Outstanding. Schools with the highest point score on entry, miraculously, seem to find it a matter of  near certainty to be given an Outstanding Grade..

Seems simplistic? Ofsted rely massively on data.
The brighter the intake the easier to show progress.
If progress is outstanding, teaching must be outstanding.
If progress and teaching are outstanding behaviour and management must be outstanding.

Ofsted Grade by Prior Attainment as of 30 April 2014

A few notes of explanation:

  • These are the 2,684 secondary schools in England with both a KS2 prior attainment score and a current Ofsted grade.
  • 85% of these schools have a KS2 average point score (APS) of higher than 26, but lower than 30 i.e. the four columns labelled 26, 27, 28, 29 in the chart
  • The number of schools in each APS “bucket” is shown at the top of the bar so there are 748 schools with KS2 APS of 27 or higher, but less than 28.

Ofsted has been criticised for knee-jerk reactions to the latest scandals. Thus they descended on Birmingham last summer  and suddenly two schools rated, by Ofsted, as Outstanding, were now, after all, Seriously Weak. Ofsted never explained how their inspections failed to notice the serious weaknesses. But they certainly hammered the schools when the world was watching.

The tragic case of Baby P in North London throws up another Ofsted oddity. In 2007 Haringey Social Services, inspected by Ofsted, was given a “Good” grade. When the poor boy was murdered and the case took over national news, the record of the Good grade had disappeared to be replaced by an Inadequate ruling. And Ofsted ducked all criticism whilst damming those it had inspected..

This isn’t nice is it? The head of social services got her day, and payout in court, but she was destroyed by the press.

I know it is going back a way but the Head of Ofsted 1994 -2000, Chris Woodhead who created the bullying regime, making  headline , announcements like, “30,000 bad teachers in our schools,” never liked the question about his full relationship with a sixth form girl whilst “teaching” her and then lying on oath about it when challenged It was legal back then. He said teachers didn’t deserve a payrise whilst demanding, and getting, a 30% rise for himself. (New Statesman  26-04-99)

Academies run by a government approved superhead, Rachel de Souza, were so well informed of the date Ofsted would visit that they imported star teachers to perform on the inspection days ( Guardian 17-08-14) Accurate to the day emails from De Souza saying “only 3 weeks to go until Ofsted visit” are a mite embarrassing but I guess it’s OK to look after your mates in these matters.

The Academy Chain, AET, really really, really can’t rest easy now that their trustee, David Hoare, has been appointed Chair of Ofsted. So good is AET that it was barred from taking on more schools amid reports of falling standards (Guardian 12-08-14)

The underperforming AET chain of academies could tell staff that Ofsted had given notice that it would inspect 12 of its schools in June  2014.And they were spot on.

The National Union of Teachers – a voice rarely heard by Wilshaw – claims, “Ofsted no longer has the confidence of the teaching profession.”
They are Gove’s enemies of promise so how about Primary School headteachers:

“The NAHT can no longer work with Ofsted’s adversarial approach.”

The Logal Government Association, again in 2014, said that  a series of u-turns and leaks had “undermined Ofsted’s credibility.”

School management and local education authorities failed to promote the highest standards in schools. This does not mean that the imposition of an aggressive regime dominated by data and fear is the way to treat teachers and school communities. We need a fair and impartial professional view of what makes a good school and this is certainly not a perpetually Ofsted- ready school where we justify actions on what Ofsted want. 

On Wednesday of this week Wilshaw addressed the nation in ways that allow the press to believe that we are in a perilous state. We are not. Teaching and achievement in schools is light years ahead of where we were when Ofsted was created in 1992.

Ofsted has not complained that the political interference of the last 4 months means that GCSEs are now harder to pass. Ofsted did not comment on the 10% national decline in pass rates that resulted. The bar below which schools are said to be failing has been raised again by another 10%. So more schools are bound to fail Ofsted’s GCSE driven inspections.

What a pity that the Chief Inspector of Schools has to impose guilt to get on the radio.

If only Ofsted’s ideology had progressed beyond bullying in those 20 years . If Ofsted leaders could see a way towards constructive conversations with schools packed full of professionals working their hardest we would welcome their help – maybe in a loving embrace. 

Dennis O'Sullivan (Headteacher)

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