To have done with the Judgement of Ofsted

In 1947 The mad French Surrealist Antonin Artaud produced a radio play called ‘To Have Done With the Judgement of God’. It involved some grunts, screams, cries and, literally, a ‘loud fart’. He died soon after…

In the piece Artaud wrote:

“It seems that, among the examinations or tests required of a child entering public school for the first time, there is the so-called seminal fluid or sperm test, which consists of asking this newly entering child for a small amount of his sperm so it can be placed in a jar…”

In England we do something similar: world weary old campaigners, old stalwarts and now new schools entering the public sphere for the first time, are all inspected by Ofsted and a small amount of spit and sinew is examined with the results placed not in a jar but on a website for all to scrutinise. The Ofsted ‘Experience’ is an experience which most of us in education have been exposed to and with differing results. I am not against the need to judge, I just wonder whether we need a more ‘polytheistic’ approach.

Harry Fletcher Wood has posted a very interesting blog about the Ofsted inspection at his school, Greenwich Free School in South East London. I live in Greenwich and am very interested in GFS and hope that both he and the school will do well. I am a veteran of 5 Ofsteds and I understand the trepidation beforehand and the feelings one goes through during and after the inspection. As the inspections have got shorter and cheaper over time they have become, paradoxically, more important. Parents take notice of them, as does the media, but also teachers looking for jobs look at the Ofsted report as a short cut to knowing what a school is like. Along with the headline figures for GCSEs A-C, Ofsted is essential. Yet, of course, the real world is more complex than either of these measures can really convey.

How to reflect this complexity? Well, perhaps we need more ways of celebrating our schools (or getting them to pull their socks up…) Why? Because every human system is flawed and the more power we give one system the more its distortions become apparent. This doesn’t mean replacing Ofsted with another quango or reforming Ofsted so that it still has the same influence but judges in a different way (though that is no reason not to look at it, this is not an argument for retaining apparent flaws if they can be addressed) It means having other credible measures also in place.

What other credible measures could be put in place? Well, a school could release data on staff CPD and improvement figures (e.g. ‘5’ staff achieved QTS, 3 an MA, 13 were judged outstanding through the school’s own appraisal procedures), and headline data of the school’s own self assessment and its areas of focus for improvement. L.A.s could inspect all the schools in their area especially if they are expected to have some sort of overseeing role, if not L.A.s then some other organisation and this data should be published in the same way as Ofsted publish their findings. The Good School’s Guide and other credible private providers could also have a role in similar processes, though I do think schools can get carried away by having a fetishistic collection of symbols on their letter headings. Some providers should be seen as more equal than others in a school’s assessment. These ‘headline’ figures could be viewed in the same way as nutritional information on food packaging. When I’m shopping I take notice of the traffic light ‘headlines’ of amounts linked to GDA’s though I am sure there are many flaws in this system they allow me to get an overview as well as take notice of the particular things I’m trying to get or avoid.

By having more ‘higher stake’ inspections and by publishing more data a school will deal with the stress of inspection far better, the more judgements there are, the less ‘shocking’ the experience. The more variety in the feedback helps the institution to become more ‘anti-fragile’. Currently far too much rests on Ofsted, a bad report can leave a school reeling.

On another matter I do think teachers need feedback on how they are doing; unfortunately there are few schools that get this right. Our schools are far too ‘time poor’ with people running about chasing paper and spending time with children in classrooms rather than investing in the adult human relationships that are so essential in healthy organisations. Often staff appraisal is put on the back burner whilst the school gets on with the day to day and this leads to a crisis of hurried formal ‘observations’ rather than the important informal conversations in and around each other’s classrooms. People who don’t work in schools have little idea of how few minutes are spent sharing ideas, giving feedback and support with one’s colleagues in a relaxed manner. Teachers spend too long at the ‘chalk face’ or are too busy planning, marking, trying to keep their family relationships from falling apart to develop properly professionally.

Which brings me to this point: if Government wants to improve schools and sustain improvement, instead of throwing money at, say, interactive whiteboards it would begin to invest more in giving teachers ‘space’ away from teaching. I think One and a Half school days minimum, per teacher, per week should just about do it. Oh, and no cover… and no endless, pointless meetings… and… ad infinitum…



13 thoughts on “To have done with the Judgement of Ofsted

  1. I agree that the current Ofsted inspection process has become shorter (cheaper), but more intense with respect to its significance. I don’t agree, though, that adding extra high stakes assessment processes is a useful way forward. It seems to me that our current angst is around the outcome for our young adults…will their education allow them to compete in the brave New World which we will all inhabit in the future. We have lost our way (maybe we never knew the way in the first place…). I agree that schools need to be striving to get better, but in a low stakes collaborative way, that builds confidence and certainty. We talk about unlocking the potential of students, but forget that the same thing applies to their teachers… would be nice to reduce chalk-face time for teachers, as you suggest, and possibly the only way to make significant progress in teacher development (?). But, let’s not have more high stakes assessment processes……


    1. I am not against the low stakes collaborative way forward at all. I think by having more inspections schools will become more relaxed about them and put them into perspective. Ofsted will do its heavy handed stuff if that’s what they think is right, others are likely to offer a different view and do the inspections in a more positive way. “Higher stakes” here means different things to you and I maybe? In the end it might mean that schools become ‘anti fragile’ and less likely to go into the Ofsted frenzy mode that is a sad indictment of our current inspection routine.


      1. Yes, I see the strength of your argument, but don’t think adding more assessment processes (which are available for all to see) would actually arrive at anti fragility, but would just further pressurise teachers and grind them down. I am not convinced that this type of assessment actually delivers improvement…at least not more improvement than would be achieved by taking the pressure off and allowing teachers etc to actually seek genuine improvement. The stack of assessment processes doesn’t feel like treating teachers like professionals. I am a professional scientist, but I am not subject to high stakes (i.e. career busting) assessment in the way teachers currently are.


  2. It’s the career busting thing that I’m proposing we deal with. I think ‘more’ and a wider variety of headline views would mean, paradoxically, less career busting and more supportive results. Peer review included?


    1. Not convinced it would work in practice. Although, I agree with the aim. Problem is, would be very easy to increase workloads and demands without a concomitant increase in improved student outcome (whatever that would look like). Is there an alternative that reduces workloads and fear, but encourages self improvement?


      1. Again, I don’t see increased workloads, I see a decrease. Inspections should be more run of the mill for the good of everyone rather than huge ‘events’ that need a lot of gaming. More means less… 😉


      2. Well, again, I don’t think that’s the way it would pan out. An assessment process that is ‘transparent’ and public would need to be taken very seriously, and would become a focus for SLT, hence cause them to insist on certain behaviour/effort…..etc. Many different such assessment processes would just increase the pain. We need an approach that elicits a different response….one that trusts professionalism more. Not sure what that would be.


      3. Certain behaviour and effort might be a good thing… I used to have many visitors to my classroom, inspectors as well as other people coming in to ‘see what blah blah looked like’. My teaching improved as I had people to bounce ideas & energy off of. Remember here I’m talking about different types of ‘inspection’ and the only thing I’m adding that doesn’t already happen is the LA, third tier inspection. In the past some of us remember this level of inspection and in my small experience it was extremely useful. The more the merrier. The idea is that the more you get the more resilient as an individual, department, school you become. I soon stopped putting on a show, I carried on as before. I could list the number of visitors/inspectors here but it would go on a bit, suffice to say that it might be that the more open the classroom to informed visitors the better what goes on in it…


      4. My problem isn’t observations, per se, but consequences of them….which depend on why they are being carried out. So, the lesson study peer collaborative approach is formative in intention, not judgemental, for example. This, where the whole point is clearly and actually to help improve teaching, is fine. These aren’t part of the accountability structure, they are for development. Where they are part of the accountability structure, that is where the angst and agony comes from: it is difficult to use one process to do several things (e.g. using summative assessment tasks for formative processes) as that with the most immediate consequence (judgement) will dominate, and the development part will languish. Which I think is what we see now.


  3. But it is the angst due to there only being one outlet for this reportage? If we publish more headlines the picture is likelier to be more rounded and the overal effects of one view will be diluted amongst the many… Therefore the Ofsted effect is diluted…


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