Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Are Ofsted Off The Mark?

It seems that Ofsted is mentioned in the news on a fairly regular basis, often with regard to schools that they have deemed to be ‘failing’, when judged by their existing criteria. But is the current inspection system itself in need of a major review?

There was a time when I may have taken an Ofsted report at face value. If a school was put in special measures, I may well have believed it was well deserved. Similarly, I would have lapped up every word of a glowing report, believing that it was the type of place that my children should attend. But not any more.

Following a few personal experiences, I would like to raise the question, what is Ofsted’s real agenda? Let me explain the basis for this reaction.

Several years ago, I worked for a school that had only just received a ‘good’ Ofsted report. On the basis of this I had no qualms at joining the support staff at said school. But within days of starting work, I was flabbergasted as to how the establishment had managed to be rated so highly. Behaviour was appalling, staff members were apathetic and results only vaguely reasonable. Perhaps the lad who turned to me one lesson and said, “They sent all the naughty ones out the day Ofsted came”, was not merely speaking in jest.

Following a particularly bad behavioural incident, I felt the need to speak to a member of the management team, who basically couldn’t give two hoots! Things got worse and I decided to leave, but not without communicating to Ofsted my concerns about the school – only to be ignored.

Fast forward to more recent times. I was pleased to get my son into a great grammar school, where the staff members were helpful, results good and the atmosphere friendly. The year after my son started at the school, it topped the results table for the county and I was really pleased with his individual progress.

Then Ofsted came along.

Overnight, the school was put into special measures, the lovely head disappeared without a ‘goodbye’ and new one blustered in like a bull in a china shop. The schools individuality was stripped, as the school became part of a trust that just seems to want to ‘clone’ the school. When it comes to education, one size does not fit all!

As a parent I protested, taking the time to express my concerns to Ofsted. Their first reaction was that I’d had my chance for my say by filling in their questionnaire. Have you ever seen the Ofsted questionnaire? It’s just a series of tick boxes, with no room to expand on or explain any of the issues that you really want to address.

I persisted with communications to Ofsted, including sending a letter to Sir Michael Wilshaw. Eventually I wore them down enough to get a slightly longer reply, including a promise to meet with me on their next visit to the school. Like that happened!

I’ve never agreed with the decision to put my son’s school into special measures, or had the opportunity to discuss it properly. The ‘good’ news is it is now deemed by Ofsted to be a good school, which is somewhat surprising as to my mind it’s not a patch on what it was. Communications and admin are far worse than they ever were, but fortunately teaching is good – just as I’d always thought!

Time and again I hear of more schools receiving poor reports and being put into special measures. Most recently, Durham Free School have hit the news, threatened with closure despite a recent Department of Education report, declaring it to be “A successful free school securing good teaching.”

It’s true some schools may be struggling, but others I feel are being judged too harshly. It seems that Ofsted wants all schools to fit a mould – any deviation from their tick box system, however good results and student’s and parent’s views of the school, and Ofsted storm in.

As a result of this our choices of school for our children will become more limited, as each one becomes slowly cloned, lead by a series of Ofsted’s ‘yes men’ (and women, of course).

None of us want our children to suffer through poor educational standards – we’d like them to achieve their best – but we also want them to feel happy and safe, and experience a sense of belonging in the process.

Come on everyone! Let’s press for a total review of Ofsted, and stop good schools from receiving damning reports that actually can mean a change for the worse!

Please feel free to leave comments on this post – I will be lobbying MPs and other appropriate bodies – and your support is appreciated.

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