Inspections Without Fear or Favour!

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Information about Inspections Without Fear or Favour!

Published on April 22, 2014

Author: PeterEccles



Read my experience of being head of a school during an Ofsted inspection and how judgements are given with much more room for manoeuvre than you might think. See my blog at

‘Inspections Without Fear Or Favour!’ Sir Michael Wilshaw’s Speech to ASCL, 21 March 2014 When I first became a headteacher in 2009 defending my new school against the storms of ofsted preoccupied my thoughts relentlessly – possibly much more than for the average headteacher. There are at least three good reasons for my saying this. Firstly, and I hope quite naturally, I was a new headteacher and wanted to prove myself and enjoy seeing young people achieve more than they and their parents were expecting. Secondly, I was acutely aware that a new, tougher inspection framework was about to be unleashed on schools. Thirdly, a ‘mocksted’, paid for at great expense by the governors and planned for by a majority of school leaders at all levels before my arrival, was carried out two months following my arrival. The benefits of this exercise were vast but the message that came from the ‘out of area’ inspectors proved, without a shred of wriggle-room, that the school was providing an inadequate and unsafe education for its pupils. Despite having to manage this message plus the fact that, quite naturally I suppose, staff demonised me for the unsettling message in the first place, I created a leadership team with a new and determined purpose. For my part, I grafted 24-7 and earned myself the title of ‘new broom’ like never before. Once ofsted arrived ‘for real’ nineteen months later my / our self-evaluation of standards in the school was that they were ‘on the cusp of good’. It was probably ‘satisfactory’ but you would never begin negotiations by selling yourself short. Accordingly, on the first day of the inspection, ‘satisfactory’ appeared to be the order of the day. I was unhappy with this forecast but was acutely aware that staff were not settled. While a majority were happy to be part of the rapid development that was encouraging professional growth and a better deal for the youngsters the school served, many were leaving to retire early and a few ‘went off sick’. The other problem was insurmountable and that was the fact that there was no way on earth that I could argue standards were rising over a sustained period of time. Effectively, I had one last shot available to me which was to demonstrate the robust, aspirational plans for sustained improvement were shared across all levels of leadership and that these plans could easily be cross-referenced for synopticity and a shared sense of optimism. After all, we had come a long way from the dark times of the mocksted! And so on the second day (of reckoning) the ofsted team permitted myself and my trusted deputy headteacher to sit in on the team’s deliberations in the customary way. Despite my worries the judgements were consistently designated as ‘2s’ rather than ‘3s’ with the effect that I repeatedly shifted in my seat, probably bobbed up and downbut definitely struggled to contain myself. While this happy anecdote marks one of the high points of my headship I was (and remain so) absolutely certain that ofsted inspectors are equipped with significant wriggle-room when making summative judgements and almost alight on an outcome that strikes me as much more influenced by subjectivity rather than a mechanical hard look at ‘facts’. Obviously, in my case I was very grateful as I believe the judgement was made in testimony and encouragement to self-evaluation and school improvement planning created with fortitude and humility (do I hear echoes of James Collins’ Good to Great here?). The fact is that I had ninety minutes at the end of the first day with the lead inspector which I believe were pivotal in providing him with evidence of the kind of passionate leadership that was operating in the school at that time. ‘Without fear or favour’? I don’t think so. Good leadership is key, often born out of relentless commitment, sadly, often at personal cost. Inspection teams should recognise it when they see it, support it and encourage it, then move on.

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