At the first day of last weekend’s Sheffield gathering of ATL branch leaders from across the UK, Ofsted National Director for Schools, Mike Cladingbowl, extolled the virtues of being able to see situations through a different lens and not just your own perspective. In his own words, “It is too easy for me to walk through the supermarket and think ‘that courgette’s satisfactory’”.
It was clear from the audience’s reaction that he had found agreement. But they were also quick to challenge him on whether Ofsted walks the walk in seeing classroom teaching from a teacher’s point of view – and in understanding the impact of the current Ofsted regime on school and college staff and their pupils.
Dialogue then, such as Ofsted’s presence at this conference, is important and the speech finished with an emphasis on the importance of working together to achieve common aims. Laudable when children’s futures are at stake.
Teachers’ experiences though are not of Ofsted singing from the same hymn sheet. Inconsistency between inspectors and inspection teams is regularly reported to ATL. And there is the question of whether messages from the top of the organisation reach the inspectors visiting schools on a daily basis. The requirement for lesson plans is the classic case, and mentioned again on Friday. Ofsted nationally insists they’re not required and there is no fixed formula, teachers are professionals who can find many different routes to successful teaching and learning – yet teachers still report being asked for them by inspectors and head teachers wanting them as an insurance policy for Ofsted’s visit.
The glowing light at the end of the tunnel which reassured some ATL branch secretaries was the message that Ofsted is taking seriously the issue of consistency and ‘policing’ its contractor inspectors.
We’ll be watching closely, and letting Ofsted know if these attempts to ensure the quality of inspectors’ work stands up to the sort of rigorous inspection they dish out fail to have effect. Let’s hope they will be open to dialogue and other perspectives if this does prove difficult.
Oh, and sadly for the Cladingbowl family, satisfactory in Ofsted terms – even if not by the dictionary definition - is no longer good enough. The local shop’s courgettes clearly require improvement.