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.
- Don’t need this pressure on: Towards intelligent, sustainable accountability.
- Accountability ‘stick’ is taking us to the brink: Time for radical change.
- Edu-shaming starts with Ofsted Grading
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:
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’. This is 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.