Review by Frances Akinde

SEND advisor and neurodiversity champion

1 Apr 2023, 5:00


The Conversation – with Frances Akinde

This week’s digital staffroom conversation has been dominated by a sector-wide revaluation of Ofsted. Frances Akinde listens in

Disappeared colleagues

There is an underworld in education, let’s call them the ‘disappeared.’

These are educators from all sectors and phases who suddenly and without warning disappear from their settings, never to be spoken of again.

Typically, a message will go out to staff to say that the person in question is ill or ‘off work for personal reasons’ and is not to be contacted. A few days, weeks or even months later, staff will get an update to say that the member of staff has ‘decided to move on’.

This society of educators has now increasingly decided to speak out. On Sunday morning, I got a text from a friend who is a school leader, signposting an “Interesting read by Tom Sherrington”. In his latest blog, entitled Ofsted has to change. For all our sakes,  the author of Walk throughs  and The Learning Rainforest discusses his experiences as a school leader.

I know Sherrington from his books and his work around Rosenshine’s  principles. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by him and Emma Turner for their Mind the Gap podcast series. But I didn’t know his back story as a school leader and why he’d decided to leave headship. Last week’s tragic news seems to have started an outpouring of truth-telling.

Hidden agendas

They are speaking out and resharing their own painful experiences, and we are all better off for hearing them. Like retired head, John Cosgrove, who in this blog describes and Ofsted judgment and a complaints procedure that can at best be described as requiring improvement.

Or like this blog, re-posted by Ruth Swailes. It could have been me is an indictment of the mental health toll of our accountability system. Like many others, it is written by a leader who remains ‘undercover’, but to me this is a huge shift.

You see, most school leaders don’t talk about negative experiences. Mostly, that’s because if things go wrong for whatever reason, they are offered a termination agreement which is accompanied by a  non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which bars them from talking about it. In exchange, they get to leave with an  agreed reference. If they do decide to talk, they live in fear that their reputation will be in tatters and that they may never work in education again.

These are dedicated school leaders who took on the challenge of leading a school because they wanted to make a difference for young people. For whatever reason, their efforts were not enough or their methods not in favour and the consequence is that they face the end of their careers.

Unexplored paths

As a very recently ex-headteacher and now SEND advisor, I strongly agree that there needs to be accountability and a way to maintain high standards of education, particularly for our most vulnerable students. But what does this look like?

School leaders (current and retired) and even some ex-inspectors have been offering possible avenues. But as Twitter user, ‘Secret Headteacher’ sets out in this thread, any meaningful transformation will take time.

Some have simply decided no longer to be part of a system they perceive as harmful, like headteacher, Andy Webster who took to Twitter to announce his resignation as an Ofsted inspector. As the legendary ‘Geoff and Margaret’ explain using Schools Week data, serving headteachers make up 68 per cent of the inspectorate. “The power to bring real change to Ofsted comes from within the profession.”

Calling for an inquiry into Ofsted inspections and a suspension of its visits, ‘HeadteacherChat’ repeated the profession’s widely held view: ‘We value professional dialogue and understand the importance of maintaining high standards’.

But like Ross McGill, we can all imagine a better system.

Meanwhile, we can only wish for the clarity of purpose on show from headteacher, Flora Barton, reflecting on a school inspection in 2017.

“We had decided from the outset that we weren’t doing what we did for Ofsted. […] if we put our children at the heart of every decision that we make, we can never go far wrong.”

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