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OFSTED – Replace with cheaper, simpler, more effective!

Comment 6th August 2010

I have been in education since 1984 when I qualified as a teacher and now I am coming up to 11 years as a headteacher in Derby.

I have experienced first hand 3 inspections (2 as head 1 as acting) and have knowledge of many more.  All of the inspections regarding my schools (Arboretum Primary, Lakeside Community Primary x2 both in Derby) have had positive outcomes in terms of the report findings so I am not 'OFSTED bashing' because I've had bad inspections.

My real issue is that the whole process brings unecessary pressure and in some cases unwaranted but real fear, to all school staff and governors which at best ensures paperwork is up to date but at worst reduces effectiveness of the whole school community and causes illnesses which some very good staff never recover from. I am yet to experience an inspection that either tells me something I didn't know (and incidently had already widely published to parent/carers, staff and governors) or leaves the school in a better place to move forward than it already was!  If this is the case what are we paying out millions for?

I am not anti-accountability, far from it, schools should be subject to a regime of checks although SATs and league tables seem a long way from producing this.  Many years ago HMI inspected schols but rather than just agreeing with judgements already made by the school there was also a joint responsibility for improving the provision which surely is the point of any inspection process.  They gave advice! 

It seems that anyone with any knowledge of education can come into a school find a number of key issues, tell the school to sort them out and then go away (an over simplification but my point is clear).  The caveat being that if you're not deemed good enough we'll come back soon to see what you've done and put more excessive and undue pressure on all involved.

So what would be better and cheaper?  If the school is not good enough, close it! Don't just rename it, put a couple of new leaders in without the power to dismiss ineffective staff and throw some money at it. That said most primary schools are places that children, Parent/Carers, staff and governors are proud of and are happy places of learning.  We know where our areas for development are but if these areas still exist in our schools then what we need is not reinforcement of failings but assistance from experienced educationalists to develop new ways of moving the school forward in partnership that are different to those we have tried. If we knew what would make things better we would have already done it!!   This would involve maybe in a school of my size (420 pupils including FS1) one inspector for a week who would assist in planning etc and take a professional interest in the schools achievements and also be able to signpost to other experts as required. They would return at a later date not to re inspect but to check on progress and give aditional advice, (SIPs maybe?).  If all had been tried but still no real difference on say numeracy results was found, then there should be a way of noting that rather than failing the school isdoing all it possibly can. Alternatively employ serving heads to perform this role in areas away from their 'home' to avoid people becoming too subjective in their approach. 

It is also important that we look at why the link is so strong between deprivation and school performance, I cannot believe taht all the 'bad' teachers and leaders work in these areas!  My feeling is that some of our best leaders work in some of the toughest schools but our current OFSTED inspection process seems to faill these schools rather than recognise the remarkable achievements that are being made.

I look forward to being able to take this discussion further and would welcome the opportunity of working with the Government to make a real difference in schools and not just see another round of a government putting in reforms for political rather than educational reasons.

Regards Simon Emsley

Why does this matter?

Cheaper.

Simpler.

More effective.

Leads to improved schools not just good people left emotionally and professionally destroyed which can happen all too often at present.

I could give more detail but I think it is clear enough.


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