Ofsted “Inadequate” – the emblem of our toxic system

Re-sharing this today following the tragic news about Ruth Perry  and her family’s assertion that her suicide was linked to her school’s Ofsted inspection.  Everyone knows suicide is complex.. but here people close to her make a direct link and that has to be heard and thought about really very hard.  It’s not about blaming individuals – it’s about a culture, a system, a climate that persists.  And it has to stop. 

Ofsted “Inadequate” – the emblem of our toxic system

I’ve made the case time and time again that Ofsted Grading is a disaster.  For example in this post: Five Reasons to Ditch Ofsted Grades

I’ve also made the case time and time again that our current accountability culture is excessive with very significant negative consequences for schools, leaders, teachers, children.. and by association, parents – and the country as a whole.

For example:

I’m not alone.  From small fry individual commentators like me up to huge influential bodies like NAHT, the case has been been made to Ofsted that their grading system is at the heart of an accountability culture that is pushing us to the brink.

We have a teacher recruitment crisis.  It’s real.  We have a dearth of people seeking out leadership roles and many serving Heads thinking of leaving.  It’s a real issue.   Recent TES articles like this one – https://www.tes.com/news/not-good-enough-words-i-cant-stop-hearing – have highlighted the personal fall-out from our current system.  SLT behaviours around the country are still far too top-down heavy-handed in too many places and these behaviours are a direct response to the very real excessive pressure those leaders feel they are under.

And yet, despite the strong case made from numerous quarters, Ofsted has published this cringe-inducing justification of their current position.  Read it and weep:

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 15.09.23.png
Click to read the argument 

The argument seems to be: We know it does harm; we know it doesn’t really stack up – but actually enough people seem to like it so we’re keeping it.   And guess what – it aligns with Progress 8 so it can’t be all wrong?  (WTF??)

No mention is made of reliability issues; no attempt is made to reassure us about the confidence we can have in the actual processes.   And no attempt is made to mitigate the negative consequences they acknowledge.  It’s bad but just not as bad as other models.  It’s a paper-thin defence that will impress nobody.

Inadequate => Toxic.

But this is the main issue for me.  Inadequate as a label for schools and the people in them – is part and parcel of the four-grade system and it stinks.  From my point of view – based on my personal experience and the experience of large numbers of other leaders I know –  the fact that our system includes a process of putting schools into Special Measures, labelled Inadequate for all to see, is appalling.  The sign of a deeply rotten system.  The fact that we support institutionalised public humiliation and vilification of this kind is an outrage.  It’s totally f**ked up. FUBAR.

If we are going to keep grades, we have to change the language, the label, the rhetoric and the response to schools who are judged to be Grade 4.  From what I see, where this happens, the schools, their teachers, leaders and students need help. They are vulnerable, struggling.  They need support. Understanding. Solutions. Care. Protection.   But this is the opposite to what they get.

The lead HMI delivers their verdict grim-faced; barely able to make eye contact. They may as well wear a black cap as the Headteacher is ‘sent down’.  That’s how it feels.

If Ofsted not only keeps the grades but sticks to the language of Inadequate and all that follows, this is what it means:  They think people deserve it.

  • Leaders who are publicly humiliated.  They deserve it.
  • Schools that fail and are vilified in the local press.  They deserve it.
  • Leaders who sign off with stress with chronic mental health issues. They deserve it.
  • Leaders with years of service to give but are left demoralised and beaten. They deserve it.

Teachers who leave the country or the profession because the stress and pressure is all too much. …Wait… The kids deserve it? The parents deserve it?   What then…..?!

I can only imagine the dismissive tones – the sheer contempt that must accompany any readings of blogs like this at Ofsted towers. They are the new Good Guys.  They’re into research and curriculum and go to Saturday conferences and everything.     But if Inadequate stays – it means more than any speech of platitudes. It means they literally explicitly think schools and their leaders deserve what they get.   Parents demand it! Heads on Spikes! We’re just doing our jobs…

An ‘Inadequate’ judgement as a concept is itself way more than inadequate.  It’s an ugly stain on our whole system and until it goes we’ll never solve the major issues of recruitment and retention; we’ll never find the right balance of healthy accountability that keeps standards high but allows people across the whole system to love their work, to thrive – and to feel truly supported when things get tough.

Here’s a post temporarily made public again giving some of my personal experience:  I was lucky. I pulled through. 

Out of the darkness.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started to feel that I’m emerging from a dark tunnel. There is light! I’m not sure exactly where the tracks are leading to but, right now, I don’t really mind. There are plenty of new possibilities and I’m up for finding out.   At the moment I can’t imagine…


  1. Tim,

    I usually love reading your posts; I find them thought provoking and a good prompt for some professionally challenging inner dialogue. However, having inherited a very, very broken school I do feel that ‘inadequate’ is an appropriate word in some instances. Although a word alone cannot not solve our problems or it certainly does not help us overcome our challenges and barriers…

    I came to my school, 10 months after an inspection that placed them in SM and in that 10 months the school had become even more broken. I’ve now been at my school for 18 months now; our reputation (and financial security) is now improving as a result of a really strong focus on improving provision in EYFS. As these cohorts progress throughout the school I hope I can retain some of my amazing staff so we can build on this progress. However, some of these amazing staff are also struggling to deal with such a wide range of attainment in their current classes due to the legacies of the past.

    We had our inspection in November 2016, have not yet academised and are therefore likely to be reinspected any day now. We’ve only had two monitoring visits from HMI in all this time i.e. for over two years. We also have a leaking roof that needs to be replaced as a matter of urgency (as of August 2018, but has still not been replaced).

    Just to complete the picture our composition is 82% EAL; only 14% are entitled to PPG (because most of our children are new arrivals to the UK and therefore are not yet entitled to FSM etc). Having said that I know that my profile of provision/teaching is not strong enough yet and am dealing with a number capability/conduct issues too.

    Clearly, an ‘inadequate’ grading is not the answer and does not bring the necessary support and an absence of monitoring visits do not bring the leverage that is needed either. However, what does/could work for schools like mine?



    • It’s Tom. “I came to my school, 10 months after an inspection that placed them in SM and in that 10 months the school had become even more broken” I hope your predecessor is doing ok. They didn’t deserve the humiliation.


  2. We are not the only ones trying to weather the storm of corporate meddling in education and negotiate with politicians and officials that care so little for how they roll over school communities where, as you point out, care and support are required. This blog by Nancy Bailey in the US came just after I got around to reading this, your latest, blog. You may find it interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve learnt the hard way that no role is worth sacrificing my health for. I now avoid applying to roles in inner city schools. Anywhere where there is a high percentage of students on free school meals and anywhere where a significant number of students do not have English as their first language. It is near impossible for my school (middle-class Home Counties commuter town) to get RI.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My god Tom Heads on stakes !!!! Gory
    but directly to the point – my highly
    attenuated visual cortex was flashing
    This image until the small hours -with
    my head eyes bulging

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tom, when I think where many of us started with blogging and Twitter, for me back in 2012, and the issues that have been covered in ed policy, we always seem to end up with accountability as the elephant in the room. In a private system money talks and a poor reputation can close a school rapidly. A state system is clearly different and far more complex. I thought Ofsted provided clarity to parents. I found that you only really get it speaking to people in the know e.g. headteachers, some governors, some teachers. Our politicians deal in soundbites not rational thinking and Ofsted grading is ideal for them. Remove them both from the state education system and solve a host of problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi – I wanted to say thank you for your tweet about Ofsted and your blog. I can’t say this publicly because I don’t want my staff to see how I’m feeling (being a teacher at the moment is touch enough without worrying about your head).

    The whole system is so broken – Ofsted & also the behaviour of some leaders. I’m a head of a school that’s classed as a turnaround – we had our inspection last year and came out of measures to “good” but our outcomes have lagged. A deputy CEO in another trust and executive head from different trust have both taken me to task (one publicly on Twitter – tweeting our P8 score and telling his thousands of followers – many of whom work in education that the school is “at best” RI which led to hundreds of people commenting on it) and one privately on the phone informing me that they “could not get past the results.” It’s really knocked me and I’m genuinely terrified about this year’s outcomes, I question my decisions now about every vulnerable child I’m asked to take into KS4 because I’m scared about the negative impact they could have on our P8 score and instead of feeling proud of the turnaround journey we’ve been on, and proud of what was my determination to always prioritize the most vulnerable/disadvantaged children I feel like an utter failure to the point I come home and cry most weekend. I want to leave and feel so trapped. Being a head teacher should be the biggest privilege and best job in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

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