Sunday, 14 September 2014

That Ofsted Meeting.

A couple of weeks ago I joined five others in the Death Star, aka Ofsted's London Office in Holborn, at the invitation of Mike Cladingbowl, National Director of Inspection Reform. This was the first of three meetings held over two days in London and Manchester and the speedy bloggers have already published their blogs handily collated by Naureen in this post.

These meetings, which were the first of many opportunities for engagement, will see Mike 'putting himself about a bit' and like everyone else I am grateful for his time and genuine interest in the concerns and expectations of us mere mortals. Ofsted have chosen well in a charismatic, accomplished communicator, and the PR machine must be rubbing their hands in glee. The twitter love for Ofsted has been palpable and I'm convinced that there wasn't a person in my meeting who didn't, even fleetingly, wish he had been their English teacher or Head. He is an educator at heart and with his own children in school has an additional investment in the system. (Imagine those parents' evenings....).

Others have already reported the narrative of the various meetings so I don't intend to replicate their posts but focus on what I see as the significance of the discussions from a governor's point of view.

The key messages I got from Mike, which bear significance for school governors are:

  • A clear statement that Ofsted has no preference for any particular teaching, planning or monitoring style so guard against unnecessary 'Mocksteads' and 'Ofsted preparation' eating into your CPD budget and protect your staff, for whom you have a duty of care, from zealot Heads and SLT hiding behind 'It's what Ofsted wants' to legitimise poor or outrageous practices. Ofsted does not expect.... 
  • 'Inspection not audit'. Although data may be King, context is its Queen and there is a clear shift towards hearing the school's 'story' and a growing recognition that no two schools are the same. Inspectors should use common sense when looking at schools and although there is a drive towards consistency in grading there is also recognition that there will always be an element of interpretation and, therefore, variance. The move towards in-house training (more later) will hopefully address concerns over rogue Inspectors. This element of context and understanding the story behind the data is exactly what governors should be doing when they receive reports. By all means bench-mark but remember your school, staff and students are all individual and unique so draw your comparisons with this in mind.
  • There is a drive to recruit more serving practitioners or recently retired staff to the Inspectorate and I wonder if, as governors, we should be more actively promoting this developmental opportunity within our schools to everyone's mutual benefit.
  • The new framework has a much greater emphasis on curriculum and the personal development of learners (culture and ethos). As guardians of the curriculum this is clearly an area for governors to explore.
Of the three meetings that took place I am aware of only three governors in attendance, two of us at ours and one at the next. As a clear minority our chances of monopolising any discussion was limited but I did manage to steer the conversation in our direction and raise some issues.

Mike was categorical that governors are an integral part of school leadership and that there is no intention to split judgement grades. For the foreseeable future governance will continue to be graded as part of Leadership and Management.

On the subject of governors on Inspection Teams Mike was clear that, having removed lay inspectors with the express intention of teams being populated by experienced and qualified practitioners, there was no mechanism or justification for appointing governors to such positions. He was keen to emphasise that Ofsted was investing in training for Inspectors with a significant investment in training specifically on governance. Those who know me won't be surprised that that was the point where my hand went up in a 'Let me at them' fashion.

Once again we raised the question of draft reports and letters being sent directly to Chairs and I'm still not convinced by the arguments about contact details. A simple solution is an additional box on the Lead Inspector's paperwork to include the email/address of the current Chair - it's not rocket science.

The final topic I was keen to raise covered concerns over Reviews of Governance and the lack of quality assurance and accountability. It was this, rather than training, which I described as a 'free for all' and I was concerned that it didn't seem apparent to Mike that The College currently had no jurisdiction over quality assurance or training of reviewers, nor that not all reviews were undertaken by National Leaders of Governance. If Ofsted is to recommend External Reviews then I feel strongly that they should have an awareness of the skills and competencies of those completing them. It's something that I am following up, along with Inspectors' training on governance, so perhaps more later.

This is my personal reflection on topics covered in our meeting and I do hope that I have represented both Mike and Ofsted fairly. It is encouraging to see this unprecedented level of engagement and it looks like Mike is going to be extremely busy in the coming months popping up anywhere he can get a gig. Only time will tell but it does feel like we are moving towards a fairer, clearer inspection regime and walking the road together.


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