What have I learned from writing about Ofsted? Seven reflections

The Greenwich Free School Ofsted inspection happened in February.  It’s now May.  While the posts were re-drafted recently, the core of everything I’ve published was written in the spring half-term.  What have I learned since publishing?

1) People love reading about Ofsted

Andrew Old’s axiom, that a blog with ‘Ofsted’ in its title is sure of success, seems to have held: the site has been unprecedentedly busy.  I hope that it has added something to the discussion of inspections, lifting the veil a little, whether on the inside of a criticised school, the Evidence Forms of an observation or the thought processes of a teacher before, during and after.  However, I wonder about our priorities.  I’ll never forget a Metro front page from five years ago, of which this is a screenshot:

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Fear sells (I picked up a copy too).  It would be churlish of me to criticise those who have been interested enough to read my posts.  I think they were pretty good.  But I have written posts I consider far better which have been much less popular.  It’s not my place to complain: as Laura McInerney has noted, the posts writers are proudest of are rarely those which spark the most interest.

I do wonder, however, how productive these interests are…  in contrast to my writing about Ofsted, many of those neglected posts might actually provide readers with practical suggestions which would help them to improve their classrooms and schools.  To give just one example, my review of Switch, a book which enjoyably synthesises most of what is known about change management, a book Dylan Wiliam recommends highly, a book which could be a great tool for teachers and leaders, has received approximately one tenth of the page views my post on being observed has had.

Reading posts about Ofsted my be appealing, but I’m not sure how much it helps us with what matters.  I will be reconsidering what I click on and retweet in future.

2) Don’t believe the hype

This is pretty much the closest I’ve ever been to ‘the news’ – and, while everyone else might already know this, seeing the gap between reality and rhetoric has been sobering.  Perhaps the highlight was this statement from the Labour Party.  If I didn’t know better, I’d put 2 (freedom to employ unqualified teachers) and 2 (criticism of use of unqualified teachers) together and make 4 (the school employs unqualified teachers).*  (We don’t.)

I’m particularly glad our parental meetings with Year 7 happened before the report was published, so we could discuss, and parents could see, what their children are actually achieving.

When I was complaining about a newspaper article a while ago which was positive about the school but unpleasant in tone and inaccurate, Brett Wigdortz told me he’d never seen a news article about Teach First that didn’t contain at least one factual error.  He may have been exaggerating, but it’s a cautionary note and leads me on to my next point…

3) Stay away from the media

While it’s probably worth popping up in the local press occasionally and running a twitter feed to keep up appearances in the local community, I cannot see that being in the public eye benefits schools.  Businesses need to maintain exposure; very few schools will ever parlay press attention into benefits for their students.  It is more likely to distract us from our core purposes.

4) Stay humble & count your blessings

I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of friends and strangers, received through Twitter, comments and emails.  I’ve received sympathy, read ridiculous (regrettably unpublished) Ofsted stories and been offered help.  I can’t express how grateful I am.

And I don’t deserve any of it.  I’m fine.  I have amazing colleagues, supportive leaders, wise governors.  I’m painfully aware that there are thousands of other teachers and school leaders who need what I’ve been offered far more than me.

5) Life goes on

Since February, I have spent a lot of time working on teacher recruitment.  I’ve designed the CPD plans for next year.  I refined the scheme of work on interpretations of the British Empire, which has been great.  Life has gone on.

My colleagues’ morale has varied, depending on who you are and how you were graded.  A certain amount of caustic and self-deprecating humour has circulated.  One teacher, Lear-like, spent much of last week interjecting comments such as this: ‘but the real issue is, are students getting sufficient feedback to understand their targets?’  Others don’t talk about it.

The sunshine, the publication of the report, for me, these blogs, have helped us all to move on and get on with our jobs, to the best of our abilities.

6) No one complains about a ‘1’

Micon Metcalfe noted this on the day of our report’s publication.  Would I have gone to all this trouble to complain about a poorly decided triumph for the school?  (I hope so).

Assuming Ofsted and I both exist in similar form next inspection, I promise to write it up in the same way and detail as last time, whatever the outcome.

7) Nothing matters except the students and the teaching

In running our first CPD session after the inspection, I made sure to run an unchanged Teacher Learning Community, as planned.  What matters is getting back on track, teaching well, getting better.  We’re working on it.

I have nothing more to add.

In line with Point 1, I don’t think writing further, or thinking more about Ofsted will help me do more for my students.  I’m taking a Self-Denying Ordinance.  Until I next have personal experience of Ofsted, not another word on the subject.

The inspection write up
Part I introduced the inspection, offered a metaphor I’ve found helpful in describing what happened, explained my rationale for writing about it and provided a disclaimer that this was just a personal blog.
Part II discusses my experience of inspection as a teacher and middle leader
Part III considers the accuracy of the report for the school more broadly.
Part IV raises five questions which inspection has left me with.
Part V looks at what happened after the Inspection.

The Ofsted report can be found here.  The school’s response is here.
My colleague Will Lau has written a thorough account of his take on the inspection judgments.

For another source on the school, you could consider the school’s Parent View (one highlight is that, as of today, 97% of parents would recommend the school to another parent).

It may also be of interest to read the thoughts of some previous visitors to the school, Laura McInerney in the Guardian, Bagehot  in the Economist and Roger Scruton in The Spectator.

Two interesting posts on the subject are below:
Michael Tidd: Free Schools, Ofsted and Twitter (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
Martin Robinson: To have done with the Judgment of Ofsted

* Another nod to Laura McInerney – I know that it’s really teachers who are not on a route to qualification.  It’s unwieldy to say though.