I had an interesting conversation with a headteacher in the quiet of their office, a few weeks after an Ofsted inspection. The school had retained its ‘good’ rating. We discussed the inspection process and the utter lack of reaction from parents to the publication of the report. ‘Well,’ sighed the headteacher, ‘it's a relief that it's over and, frankly, we could have pushed to get outstanding, but what's the point? Good is good enough.’ What does that little snippet tell us about the current inspection framework?
My first inspection experience was in the very first year of Ofsted’s existence nearly 30 years ago. The whole thing was so new that an HMI trailed along to make sure that everything was being done properly. The notice period was so long that it felt as if the school had been preparing for a year for our five days. Well those days have long gone and with little loss but is it time to say goodbye to the notion of an inspection being summarised in a word like ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’?
While comprehensive, the inspection framework is, at best, a snapshot of school performance. Most teachers and senior leaders believe that the expectations of the inspection skew the balance of teaching and learning. The headteacher who felt that ‘good’ was good enough went on to explain that the school wanted to encompass so many other aspects of a child’s life experience and that ‘as long as our data stays ok’ the school would have the ‘breathing space’ to do that. And I think that most of us can see the reasoning behind that case.
So, with a slimmed down inspectorate and much more rapid inspections isn’t it time to accept what many professionals have felt for years? It would be more honest to judge a school by the data and leave the whys and wherefores of how it got there to the school leadership. Let's not pretend that the life and times of a complex human, learning community can be dissected in a day or two, and let's not do everyone the disservice of a one or two-word label to cap it all off with. If the breakfast cereal that I eat in the morning can have colour coding across a range of criteria and accept that, as an informed consumer, I can make a valid choice, surely, it's acceptable to arrive at something for schools on the same basis? Which means Ofsted can then be reformed to be a critical friend of excellence rather than a punitive experience that dedicated professionals are glad to see the back of.