Ofsted drops letters praising ‘exceptional’ heads


Ofsted has dropped a commitment to send letters to headteachers doing an “exceptional turnaround job” at other schools after just one year and only five letters sent.

The scheme was introduced by former chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in September 2015 as a way to recognise heads “taking risks, putting themselves out and disseminating good practice beyond their institution” – those who took on improvement roles at underperforming schools nearby.

The letters were also sent to the education secretary, with recipients named in Ofsted’s annual report.

However, just five leaders were recognised in the first year, and the watchdog has now told its inspectors that they are no longer expected to recommend candidates.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said the commitment was never a “core part of inspections”.

“Leadership is a set of people, not just a single person,” she told Schools Week. “For me, raising the significance of leadership and management judgment – making people realise it is something that has really valuable information in its own right about teams – is the more important thing to do.”

Leadership is a set of people, not just a single person

When he introduced the idea, Wilshaw said that recognising turnaround heads who had “played a key role in turning around other institutions” would inspire others to follow their example.

But Schools Week reported in 2015 that the scheme received a “nervous reaction” from some heads, who said it could create a “formal hierarchy where supporting other schools is seen as kudos”.

Ofsted’s 2016 annual report recognised just five heads: Bradley Taylor of Chiltern Gate School in Buckinghamshire, Dr Tom Canning at Tollgate Primary School in Newham, Kerrie Lewis from Condover Church of England Primary School in Shropshire, Fiona Todd, of St Oswald’s Worleston in Cheshire, and Janet Collins of Springfield House Community Special School near Birmingham.

Spielman added that “collecting a few top names” turned out to be “remarkably difficult”, and is something “best left to secretaries of state”.

She pointed out that the “focus on the individual judgements and not collapsing everything down into the bottom line” was wrong, because wider judgements beyond individual heads did matter.

“I want to make sure we understand how each of the judgments help informs the system and informs improvements,” she said.

She will continue to write personal letters to heads of every school rated ‘requires improvement’ overall but which received a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ score for leadership or management, as well as schools that leave special measures.

An Ofsted spokesperson said that the exceptional leaders initiative had been “related to a personal commitment” made by Wilshaw to support some leaders during the first year of Ofsted’s new inspection arrangements.

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