‘Dear Amanda, I’m retiring – because of Ofsted’

Dear Ms Spielman,

I retired from headship in December after 26 years. I worked as substantive head at three schools for about 24 years and since then I have filled a number of interim and consultant positions before deciding that enough was enough. –  A retired headteacher pens a letter to Ms Spielman in Tes

I am 58. The prospect of “seeing it through until 60” filled me with no enthusiasm at all and I have decided to do the honourable thing. I am sure I am not alone.

The problem for me and, I suspect, for many others not in the position to take early retirement, was Ofsted.

It’s not the fact that we are accountable or that we work to a set of standards and always seek to do the best we can by the children. It is the punitive style of inspection that exists. It has created a tangible fear throughout the whole education system. Headteachers throughout the land dread the message from admin that “Ofsted is on the line”. Teachers, by their nature, are generally an altruistic, non-confrontational lot.

The mixed messages coming out from Ofsted in either paraphrased soundbites like “we need a greater breadth to the curriculum and will inspect accordingly” followed the next week by “core skills are so important and they and phonics are the bedrock of all good learning” only serve to fuel the levels of anxiety in schools. Do we teach the basics or do we teach a broader curriculum?

Some time ago, I was acting head of a school while the head was absent on compassionate leave following the death of his wife. The lead inspector was questioning me regarding the substantive head’s absence, trying to find something to suggest that his absence was perhaps somehow not of his choosing. The same lead inspector also wanted to see two references for a volunteer who had just taken on the role of a midday assistant.

I told her we didn’t have two references and that although it was good practice, we were not legally obliged to have two references for staff. I was told that the school, therefore, faced being graded 4 on the grounds of safeguarding. She was seemingly unilaterally adapting the laws of the land to her own end.

Schools feel like they’re under microscopic scrutiny. I know I made mistakes in my early days as a teacher. I know I made more during my early days as a headteacher. I was fortunate not to have a punitive inspectorial system checking up on me while I was getting up to speed with my roles.

Strangely, while I was learning (often from my mistakes) nothing went horribly wrong, the children still learned; the school, including the new head, progressed. We now feel straitjacketed, fearing to venture off whatever the recommended route of the day is. Schools have become drier places, lacking creativity and genuine opportunities for hands-on learning through practice. This is Ofsted’s doing.

Schools in challenging circumstances find it even more difficult to attract good staff. You won’t be surprised to hear that I believe this is also because of Ofsted…

It takes a huge amount of effort and resource to enable children from disadvantaged, traumatic and dysfunctional backgrounds to progress and enjoy learning. The trouble is that these pupils are judged in the same heavy-handed system that makes little distinction between them and their more affluent peers. In disadvantaged communities, schools are more likely to have lower test outcomes and staff are more likely to find themselves facing more frequent inspection checks.

Read the full article ‘Dear Amanda, I’m retiring – because of Ofsted’

Feel like writing your own letter? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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