After what has been a challenging 18 months for our sector, I empathise with leaders who share Alison Peacock’s view that Ofsted represents a “Reign of Terror” over our schools . But I respectfully disagree. Three of the Mossbourne Federation’s four academies were inspected in the four-week period before half-term. And based on that experience, a “challenging, time-consuming validation” would be a more accurate depiction.
Fundamentally, this is because we do not wait for Ofsted inspections to direct us in what needs to change. Instead, we look for where we can improve consistently throughout the school year. This means that by the time we get “the call”, we are in a confident position to lay out the work we are doing to lead our schools and better serve our student body.
I absolutely recognise that this process of continuous review requires people power and spare time that schools often feel does not exist, especially after the plethora of challenges we have all faced throughout the pandemic. It is little wonder that many schools are playing catch up and feel they simply cannot dedicate time to sit and ponder areas for improvement. Many schools become locked in a cycle of waiting for Ofsted to fit a particular grade descriptor.
Yet, having taken a school from “special measures” to “good” in the course of 18 months as a principal, I can unequivocally say that there is another way. Nobody knows your school and your students better than you do, least of all inspectors who come in for a matter of days. That’s not to say that their feedback is not extremely valuable, because it is. But the individuals who are uniquely placed to recognise where change needs to happen within the school and act upon it are its leadership team.
Carving out some targets to analyse where the school can improve, from your unique and personal perspective, will save time in the long run and will mean your school can take huge strides in improvement. Rather than cause fatigue and burnout, this can actively help you avoid it, and having direction and goals as a whole school community inspires motivation. It brings all teachers and leaders back to their primary goal as educators, which is to help the students get the best possible education and succeed.
I do not wish to undermine the stress that comes with an Ofsted inspection. These days can certainly be all-consuming and nerve-wracking. But the reason my team and I were able to turn around my previous school from special measures was because we did not wait for inspectors to tell us what was right for our students and our community. We already knew that, and all we expected from inspectors was to confirm our judgments. We trusted that the steps we were taking were being taken in good faith and leading us in the right direction. Ultimately, that always came through in every inspection we had.
We are accountable to our students, parents and communities for our use of public money. That accountability is both necessary and right. So more pressing than any need to criticise the inspectorate, to pause its activities or to overhaul the inspection regime, is the need to focus on our students. To that end, our role is to empower our teachers and support staff to make necessary changes without the go-ahead of inspectors or their acknowledgment.
Rather than wait for inspectors’ feedback to guide improvements within our schools, it is on us as school leaders to take the initiative, lead by example and do what is needed to help our students attain their full potential.
Acting in this way without first seeking permission may be a high-stakes business, but that’s what we chose to get into when we applied for the job. Once you remember that and start leading consistently and proactively, Ofsted’s presence feels less like a reign of terror and more like an opportunity.
Nobody knows and serves your school like you can, and that’s worthy of validation.