The headteacher inspector calls

Both Nick Hague @educationbear and MaryIsherwood @Mishwood1, were delighted to have had the opportunity to meet with Ofsted’s National Director, Sean Harford @HarfordSean, alongside a small number of other colleagues, many of whom have already blogged about the meeting held on Monday, 18th May 2015: debra kidd @debrakiddTim Taylor @imagineinquiryCherryl-kd @cherrylkdThe Primary Head @theprimaryheadOld Primary Head @Oldprimaryhead1 , Emma Ann Hardy @emmaannhardyMiss Smith @HeyMissSmith

We have chosen to explore further an area which was discussed on the day and as heads who have both trained as inspectors, an aspect pertinent to us both – that of serving practitioners as inspectors.

This is not a new concept, in fact there have been serving head teacher and senior leader practitioners on teams for many years, but it is a concept which has gathered momentum over the last few years as the changes to the inspection framework / process have been developing:
– The HMCI, Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested back in March 2002 when speaking to the ASCL conference “one way you can lead the system is to be more involved in inspection”, adding, “Too few heads become inspectors”.
– Mike Cladingbowl who was at the time National Director for Ofsted, speaking to Manchester senior leaders and governors in February 2014 also spoke about the notion of ‘An inspector in every school’ Mary alluded to this in her blog ‘To grade or not to grade – that is the question’ http://wp.me/p4cGdC-w
– It was also raised during discussion at our meeting by Sean Harford in the context of giving credibility to inspections

If the premise is that the principle of having head teachers as inspectors is a good one, then what is the issue? Why is it worthy of debate and further discussion?
For us, including the others who met with Sean Harford and we are sure for many of you reading this, there seems to be a number of questions / potential issues…….

Here are our thoughts…

Do you need to be in an outstanding school to be an outstanding head?

MI: No in my opinion in the sense that it is a very shallow and potentially misrepresentative part of the criteria. There are many outstanding leaders who are not in outstanding schools. Equally, it does not always follow if you have joined an already outstanding school that you are an outstanding head teacher.

NH: I would agree with this. The notion of outstanding is one which has been open to much debate and I would also say ridicule and misuse. It is often used by politicians and others to highlight the supposed best or as the magic ‘Golden Ticket’ which opens a range of doors. We have too often simply defined leadership by a single word or person rather than a defining collaborative act. Let’s look beyond the narrow confines of the word so that access to, and support for, the many highly effective leaders and leadership teams is enabled for all – leadership not label!

Amount of time contracted

MI: This is an area that I raised at our meeting with Sean. There is an expectation for serving practitioners to contract to Ofsted for a minimum of 15 inspection days per year. On top of this there is 5 days mandatory face to face training, online training units particularly as areas of inspection are updated and of course time needed for preparation for inspections. Whilst I whole heartedly agree with Sean as he said when we met that it is necessary to be engaged in regular inspections in order to ensure skills are maintained and developed, for me, the current requirement is too great on top of all of the other demands both in and out of my own school. It is the reason I have made the difficult decision that whilst succeeding in the assessment process to be an Ofsted inspector I have withdrawn from contracting with Ofsted.

NH: This is a key issue for serving practitioners. The minimum of 15 days may not sound a lot when spread over an academic year but there are tasks to complete prior to any inspection (as there should be) as well as additional training days and update reading. Sean has always been very clear about the importance of having serving practitioners as members of inspection teams and now, more than ever, this is crucial to the future credibility of Ofsted and inspections. However, he did state at the meeting that he would be keeping the issue of contracted time under review once the new framework has been embedded and could be reviewed.

MI: This is true. Sean did encourage me to see how it went for two terms and then discuss further, particularly in the context as he said of there being a shortage of special school heads as inspectors. I would be concerned as a professional however about contracting and then ‘withdrawing’ mid-contract so I would welcome a review of minimum requirements which enabled serving heads like me to keep that balance. Also build in flexibility at particular pressure times within a school life e.g. changes to leadership teams or like we are – moving to a new school building next year – things that put significant pressure on Head teachers meaning they may need to temporarily reduce their external commitments.

Unintended consequences

MI: The theme of unintended consequences was raised in the meeting in a range of ways. My reference to unintended consequences is the Head teacher inspector who is so busy doing inspections that they ‘take their eye of the ball’ and standards decline in their own school as a consequence.

NH: This has happened and will be a concern to any senior leader embarking upon work with Ofsted. However, it is to be hoped that it would be seen and applied in context. Your school must and should come first!

Being a headteacher versus an inspector: a very different role

MI: Quite rightly the notion that a head teacher should not expect or impose ‘their way of doing things’ on a school they are inspecting was raised during our meeting. The CfBT training strongly emphasised that whilst the knowledge and experience of being a head teacher is clearly strength, the role of an inspector for example observing teaching in a school they are inspecting is very different from that in their own. I feel this will continue to be an essential element of ongoing training for serving practitioner inspectors

NH: For me it is about the need to leave your luggage at the door! As you say Mary, the knowledge and skills of leadership clearly contribute to your effectiveness as an inspector but you are not judging any particular method or simply honing in on one aspect of available information. It is also a matter of exercising professional control if your thoughts stray from the brief!

An inspector has to be someone working in the same phase or not?

MI: This is an area of contention and again was raised during our discussion. It is a common concern of mine and others that inspectors of special schools do not have the background knowledge and expertise to be able to make informed judgements. The same could be said of secondary trained inspectors inspecting primary schools. An essential ingredient of a team MUST be someone from that phase / background in my opinion. Within a team though, with the right training – maybe someone outside that phase could add value to professional discussions? Possibly.

NH: Mmm… in an ideal world! I do think that the majority of inspectors on any given team should have skills and experiences drawn from the phase they are inspecting. This adds credibility to the process and outcome. However, I am also supportive of the argument that all colleagues can add to any professional discussion – if not, then are we saying that primary, secondary, special are totally different?

Does an inspector have to be a senior leader or should others in school train as inspectors?

MI: Another area of contention – although not sure if any areas are not contentious actually! I feel again there is a value to extending the opportunities to train as inspectors to middle leadership in schools. The key thing in this for me, as currently with Head teacher / senior leaders, is the rigour of the application process – selecting the right people who are applying to be inspectors for the right reasons and then ensuring they get high quality training and there is ongoing rigorous quality assurance. If all of those things are in place then why not?

NH: Some colleagues I have met who are also serving head teachers, really shouldn’t be inspecting. It is about the right leader for the right job. All inspectors should have experience of some aspect of whole school leadership – whether that be at subject, phase or a higher level. The key message should be about the ability to grasp issues on a whole school level and interpret them without fear or favour – this is not solely within the remit of head teachers.

Initial training / CPD and Quality assurance for inspectors

NH: Sean was very clear on the reasons behind Ofsted ‘bringing the team’ back in house but training and quality assurance are potentially still variable moving forward. I am hopeful that the changes made to date will impact positively upon the whole process of inspection. However, I firmly believe that the ongoing training needs to be rigorous and inspectors should be open to the highest degree of professional challenge – this has often been held up as the case but has not always materialised in practice. Further, quality assurance methods should be part of the inspection process far more regularly than at present. Teams should be more frequently quality assured as they are inspecting so that feedback is immediate and developmental. I’ve commented on training and QA in a previous post – https://educationbear.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/ofsted-2-retraining-the-dementors/

MI: I quite agree. The contracting between schools and inspectors must include the provision of high quality initial training and ongoing by Ofsted. The onus is on inspectors to fully engage in the training provided to ensure they are up to date. Quality assurance is imperative and is for me is one of the pillars on which Ofsted will stand or fall by – what gives it credibility. The framework is there for everyone and is clear; however with the professional judgement that comes alongside it there is also professional fallibility. The QA process needs to make sure schools do not fall fowl of that as sadly has happened in the past.

To conclude:

MI: Sean Harford and his colleagues continue to show the openness for dialogue and collaboration with those of us working ‘at the chalk face’ as changes to the inspection framework and process are developed and established. If the inspection process is truly to be a shared experience between schools and the inspectorate then I feel we have a responsibility to equally engage in the dialogue. We share the same end goal which is to improve outcomes for all of the children and young people we work with after all.

NH: We cannot change the past or the sometimes unprofessional and harrowing inspections some colleagues have experienced. To move forward, however difficult, it must be a collaboration between schools and Ofsted. School leaders should and must deliver a strong message about their own school and their context. Inspection teams must fully understand the framework without losing sight of their professional judgement when applying it.

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