I began blogging to share practical strategies, which I use in my classroom, and get ideas and thoughts back in return. My intention was to avoid involving myself in discussions about bureaucracy. However, this blog is a break from my norm! Recently, I have been thinking about the impact Ofsted has on the workload of teachers and particularly my own. I am fully aware that this is not cutting-edge or new. It seems to be very much on the agenda (in vogue if you will) at the moment, with the workload mantras of Tristram Hunt and Nicky Morgan echoing around the political election landscape at present. On a more personal level, I have pondered why we do certain things at our school, who they are for and the impact these have. Watching Mary Myatt’s presentation at the recent London TeachMeet struck a cord and added fuel to the metaphorical fire. After much thought, I am in limbo. I am none the wiser. Undecided! A question seems to roll around in my head going unanswered.
Do what is best for the children not Ofsted OR ignore them at your peril?
My hope is that this blog will go some distance to helping me begin to answer this question. Firstly, by writing this blog it will help me organise my thoughts. Getting them down on paper, if nothing else, will clarify them. Secondly, I hope that people who read this blog will offer me their thoughts and opinions. The reason why I have swayed back and forth from one side of this question to the other is it is not a simple question. I understand and agree with both sides of the debate. I understand why it is important to do what we do for the children and NOT Ofsted, but I also understand the pressure and desire to ‘impress’ Ofsted.
As I mentioned earlier, watching Mary’s presentation struck a cord and her comment that ‘schools shouldn’t be run for Ofsted teams, they should be run for the students’ resonated strongly. I have always thought that the way schools are run is very much Ofsted focussed. Do we care more, at times, about what the inspectors think and say over the opinions of others? I worked in a school that Required Improvement and am now working in a school which is striving to earn the coveted Outstanding crown. Both are very different schools but plagued by the same problem. They are trying to impress Ofsted first. Focussing on pleasing these relative strangers, comes at a cost. I have found that it inevitably leads to an increase in the amount of paper work, data collection and evidencing. Not only does this dramatically increase the workload but high demand for evidence can also create a feeling of distrust – having to prove things frequently. The churning out of paperwork and in some cases duplication is the single most frustrating issue for me at this current juncture. I get why it is demanded but I don’t agree with the point of it. Often it is being produced purely for an inspection. An easy way to ‘prove’ something to an inspection team is to produce the paper trail which ticks the box. This is easy to do and creates the illusion that things are being done, but I don’t believe this is adequate. In some cases the paper work is completed and nothing actually changes as a result. This fact, even when challenged, doesn’t change.
On the other hand, this belief has been quickly and frequently countered by an opposing view. It is very easy to say we should organise our schools focussing on what is best for a children rather than what we think Ofsted may or may not want to see, but it is difficult to actually follow this through. What Ofsted think and how they grade your school matters. It counts! Parents will read the report, pupils will hear about it, members of the local community will base their opinion of the school on it and the result will have an impact on the staff. If your focus isn’t on ‘pleasing’ Ofsted and you get it wrong, then are you opening the school up to difficulty?
So…I have no answer. I don’t know which side of the fence I sit on. I agree and understand both sides of the argument. I want to work in a school which is run for the benefit of the children and considers the impact that the way the school is run has on the staff, but I know and understand why management teams focus on Ofsted. Can both sides to this tale be considered? Can both stances be covered? Can they go hand in hand?
Finally, assuming schools adopt the stance of organising their systems according to what is best for the children and NOT what’s best for Ofsted, how does this work in practise? What does it look like? How can it be done well? As Mary also mentioned in her presentation, what is good works and what works is good. How do we do what is good for both our children and Ofsted? Any practical solutions or ideas anyone?