Ofsted plan for ‘exceptional leader’ letters receives nervous reaction from heads

In a series of changes to Ofsted practices set out by Michael Wilshaw today, headteachers who are doing an “exceptional turnaround job” will now be recognised with a letter.

In his speech, he said: “We need great leaders in our education system from the early years upwards. Indeed, we need more mavericks, not fewer. And I take exception to the suggestions that somehow Ofsted constrains those leaders who want to do things differently.”

When inspectors see leaders playing a key role in turning around institutions other than their own they will send a letter to the head or principal acknowledging their leadership as “exceptional”.

A copy of the letter will also go to the Secretary of State and the leaders will be highlighted in Ofsted’s Annual Report.

The change will take effect from September this year when Ofsted’s new framework for inspections will also begin.

Head of Highbury Grove School in Islington Tom Sherrington said that leaders focusing on their own school “might be the most important thing” but that where there is capacity to support other schools this can also be important.

He added: “More generally, a collaborative spirit between schools is necessary and should be applauded above all else.”

However he worried that an emerging schools hierarchy can be a problem.

“I am always slightly nervous about some sort of formal hierarchy where supporting other schools is seen as kudos. There are people who wear their National Leader of Education status as a badge of honour, and I’m always slightly nervous of that,” he said.

Dame Kate Dethridge, headteacher at Churchend Primary School in Reading, welcomed the recognition of leaders making a difference to other institutions.

She said: “This is a good idea. At one stage [Ofsted] said leaders could not be judged as outstanding if they were not helping those beyond their own school and I think having that acknowledgement would be good.”

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly pushed for recognition in a school’s Ofsted grade for the work of its leaders outside of the institution. But Education minister John Nash dismissed the idea as too confusing for parents.

Lynn Knapp, head of Windmill Primary School in Oxford, also said the idea could “undervalue” others.

“I think every head works very hard. I feel confident to go into schools to support, but there will be other heads who are working in their own schools as hard as they possibly can, so there could be a risk they would feel undervalued because they won’t get a letter.”

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