School leaders “must be brave enough” to “ignore Ofsted”, the government’s social mobility tsar has said.
Katharine Birbalsingh, the chair of the Social Mobility Commission and headteacher of Michaela Community School in north London, said she didn’t think the watchdog was a “force for good”, and said leaders needed to “do what is right for your children”.
Addressing the annual conference of the ASCL school leaders’ union, also challenged her reputation as the “strictest headteacher” in the country, claiming her school’s approach to behaviour was not so different from those of other schools.
Birbalsingh, whose own school is rated ‘outstanding’, has not shied away from criticising Ofsted in the past. Last year she tweeted: “Abolish Ofsted or at least move to pass/fail, only in-house inspections for schools with worrying data.”
In a speech that barely touched on the work of the Social Mobility Commission, Birbalsingh said it was “really hard as leaders to try and ignore Ofsted in particular, but we must do it”.
“We must be brave enough to do it. I don’t really know what Ofsted is demanding at the moment. Honestly I don’t.”
Ofsted ‘not a force for good’
She had “great respect” for chief inspector Amanda Spielman, who has done a “good job in her position”. She said Ofsted was “probably the best it’s ever been, but I don’t think Ofsted is necessarily, as an idea, a force for good”.
“The reason I don’t think it’s a force for good is because too many of us, understandably as leaders, are constantly worried about what Ofsted is asking for.
“And you must try and just put the blinkers on and ignore it. And just do what is right for your children and do what is right for your school, and just push through with that.”
She said during inspections, leaders should show “evidence for what you’re doing and why, then you fight for that”.
“Because otherwise it’s not very inspirational to say to staff ‘we’re doing what we’re doing because we’re moving from good to outstanding’, or ‘we’re doing what we’re doing because this is what Ofsted wants’. You need to believe in what you’re doing.”
Birbalsingh called ‘strict’ because she’s ‘consistent’
Michaela’s use of silent corridors, no excuses behaviour policies and other approaches has led to Birbalsingh being dubbed the “strictest headteacher” in Britain.
But she told heads the “reason why they call me strict is that we’re consistent”.
“I’m not sure our behaviour policy differs much to other behaviour policies in other schools. It’s just that we follow through on all the bits and pieces.
“Whatever it is you’re asking the children to do, you need to make sure that everyone’s doing it, and that you’re not allowing some of them to get away with it, because otherwise that’s what’s unfair.”