Headmaster's Blog

Lessons to learn for an Ofsted boss

The starting gun to find Sir Michael's replacement has been fired; the Secretary of State is looking to find a new boss for Ofsted to start in January 2017. What should we seek from our next Chief HMI? I write neither to praise nor bury Sir Michael – we are where we are – the question is where would it be good to go next with Ofsted and school inspection? What do over twenty years’ experience as a Head in state and independent schools as well as working as a school inspector in both sectors suggest?

Firstly, we need to re-establish the teaching profession's appreciation of the value of inspection; we need less confrontation between Ofsted and teachers, less fear of inspectors and more respect amongst teachers for how Ofsted and school inspectors can help teachers and schools.
Schools need an end to the current expensive and ineffective system-wide inspection structure and more precision selection of schools whose inspection will help the selected school and provide credible, appreciated evidence to guide all schools in improving provision. Far fewer schools inspected but more detailed inspection in a small number to explore what really works and why. The inspection selection needs to include likely great as well as likely poor schools.
Inspectors and Ofsted personnel should focus on areas where they have genuine expertise, so we should consider separating school inspection from the inspection of child services. We should also accelerate the already signposted move to separate 'quality' and 'compliance' inspections with the relatively few 'quality' inspections in future being conducted by current teachers and 'compliance' inspections (where schools’ correct adherence to essential regulations is checked) should be conducted routinely for all schools by appropriately trained administrators.
School Inspectors would carry more credibility and add more to the process if they come from a cadre of experienced teachers on secondment (typically a two-year stint) from the classroom; when they return to schools full-time they will bring with them a wealth of valuable expertise and enhanced understanding to share with colleagues and schools.
The new Chief HMI should end the divide between the systems for inspection of Independent and State Schools. The current arrangements unnecessarily spread suspicion and division when system-wide improvement calls for partnership and collaboration.
Recruitment and retention of teachers is a high profile and genuine anxiety, arguably something approaching a national crisis. Our new Chief HMI has a key role in addressing the morale in the profession; teaching is a challenging and demanding vocation but a highly worthy one. Too many voices shout negative messages about teaching, this is enervating and self-destructive. Our Chief HMI is well placed to lead the essential positive calls of appreciation and encouragement.
Finally, schooling still lacks a national consensus as to its purpose and function, something that goes a long way to explaining the disjointed initiatives and policies we see confusing schools, teachers, employers, parents and children. The Chief HMI is well placed to draw together an agreed agenda for our hard pressed and confused education system, one that can be supported by all political parties, the profession, families and society at large.
The above is a challenging list but one worthy of the teaching profession. Success will genuinely transform the educational landscape, and the new Chief HMI needs to be a teacher, not an administrator, if they are to stand a chance.

Rod MacKinnon
Headmaster, Bristol Grammar School