Review by Fiona Atherton

Headteacher, Ladypool Primary School

24 Jun 2023, 5:00


The conversation – with Fiona Atherton

United in discontent

And the summer of discontent in education rolls on. This week’s conversation started with the announcements from Ofsted of reforms they hoped would alleviate the sector’s deep concerns about its practices. As detailed in Schools Week, the amendments include a reduction in time for a return visit if a school is rated inadequate for safeguarding (with an explanation for parents to go alongside that), and a consultation about improving their long-criticised complaints process.

But any hope Ofsted had of an ‘as you were’ was clearly for the birds. I expect the consultation will result in plenty of evidence that the current model doesn’t work. And the proposal to offer additional support for headteachers around their mental health suggests they either haven’t accepted the link between what they do and the profession’s collapsing wellbeing, or see remedial action as just a cost of doing business.

In any case, the general feeling among my professional networks is that Ofsted and the DfE’s response was far from equal to the intensity of feeling since the death of Ruth Perry and all the tragic stories that have been told since. This blog by John Cosgrove (Warning: it discusses suicide) describes others who have struggled under the Ofsted regime and is a powerful reminder of the organisation’s sometimes devastating impact.

Time will tell whether these measures will make any real difference, or whether clamour for a new accountability system only grows. Given Amanda Spielman’s predecessor, Sir Michael Wilshaw – infamous for saying all-time-low morale is evidence that leaders are ‘doing something right’  – announced this week that he has changed his mind about single-word judgements, there’s certainly hope others might be convinced.

But divided over strikes

Remaining in the political sphere for a moment, the NEU’s latest announcement about July strike dates has caused controversy. For many this time round, the intended disruption is a step too far, coming to clash with lots of important events planned for the end of term.

There has been a real outpouring of emotion about cancelling or postponing transition activities, sports days, residentials and much more besides. The fact that this comes so soon after so many children missed important milestones because of the pandemic only adds to teachers’ concerns – and it isn’t without cost implications for already struggling schools.

A deliberate act of sabotage, or a necessary action forced by the government? You decide.

Either way, the profession’s resilience and adaptability remain remarkable. Ministers, take note.

And confused about a moral panic

Finally this week, a disturbing ‘news’ report has resurfaced causing many parents to worry about what their children are being taught through the RHSE curriculum. Not the first of its kind, the article includes graphic images and ‘shocking’ lesson plans selected to create panic and drive maximum traffic to the news story.

Now, I am sure those resources exist, but I have never seen or heard of any school that I or any of my colleagues have been connected with using them. And as educators have made abundantly clear on social media, neither the article nor any of the comments below it provide evidence of even one school where these resources are being used.

That hasn’t stopped lots of parent groups commenting on the story, seemingly believing that schools are keeping these materials secret and using them without permission. This undermines us at a time when we need to be on the best terms with our parents, and it seems a little more than a coincidence that it came just as The Sun published leaked content from the government’s imminent and long-overdue transgender guidance for schools.

But that’s a controversy for next week. You’d be hard-pressed to find positive news stories about education at the moment, and there’s no let-up on the horizon. Is it any wonder mental health, recruitment and retention are collapsing when this is our professional conversation?

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