Heads “saddened and angered” by Chief Inspector’s approach. Vote of no confidence not ruled out

Janet Downs's picture
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, is on record as saying, “If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you will know you are doing something right.” He has his wish – the morale of school leaders has plummeted and they are angry. On 6 May, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) passed unanimously the following emergency motion criticising Sir Michael’s style:

“We deplore his negative rhetoric which is creating a culture of fear in schools. We would have expected him, as a former fellow school leader, to understand that to get the best out of children and staff in schools, we need to both challenge and support.”

An amendment to the motion proposed setting up an e-petition to obtain a parliamentary debate addressing concerns about Ofsted, and Oxford head, Mike Curtis, who proposed the motion, received applause when he told delegates that he saw no reason to rule out passing a vote of no confidence in Sir Michael in the future.

The NAHT surveyed its members before the Conference and the results are reported in TES (4 May 2012, not available on-line). They are not just bad news for Ofsted – they provide sobering reading for the Government. The NAHT found that 98.1% of heads think Ofsted judgements are subject to political interference, 97.4% think parents providing unverified data to Ofsted’s Parent View is unacceptable, 82% think changing “satisfactory” to “requires improvement” is unacceptable, 89.9% are unhappy/very unhappy about the tone of recent Ofsted announcements, and 72.9% believed no-notice inspections were not acceptable.

Mr Gove appears to be backtracking on no-notice inspections but the more serious complaints about Sir Michael’s approach remain. These concerns prompted the NAHT to set up an on-line satisfaction questionnaire for heads to complete after an Ofsted inspection. The survey, School View, is not designed to name and shame individual inspectors. However, NAHT general secretary, Russell Hobby, told TES, “…where there are problems, we’ll be more than happy to talk about it in the press.”

TES commented, “If past experience is anything to go by, it will not be long before the performance of inspectors is back in the public eye.”

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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 08/05/2012 - 12:44

Looking at the TES jobs section the crisis in the recruitment of heads of maths and, increasingly, English is obvious. These positions are being advertised again and again and increasingly they are being dressed up as senior team positions to try and tempt people to take the risk of taking them on with the carrot of passing rapidly through them before the axe falls.

I was inspired to become a head of maths by the well respected local characters who held these positions for decades because it used to be the kind of job that you got better and better at over time. It used to be a career long vocation round here. Now I and others would not touch it because we have been stripped of all our professional discretion and we see our respected contemporaries being forced out and forced of sick so often.

This situation is so serious right now that I think the only way Michael Gove can handle it with any credibility is to suspend Ofsted's action and set up an emergency committee staffed by
-experts in inspection and regulation from regulators who adhere to best practice
-representatives of the NAHT and the ASCL
-representatives from Ofsted who are selected by the NAHT and the ASCL as being credible them.
Michael Gove needs to rapidly pass an amendment to ensure Ofsted are obligated to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) in all cases.

wrt Sir Michael Wilshaw - He is perceived to be pushing the message that all schools should be doing discipline as Mossbourne do it. Schools which do not have the kinds of levels of resourcing Sir Michael has always had access to simply cannot operate in this way. They develop more complex systems of discipline which are very highly skilled but are much less obvious to external inspectors. Any credible education inspection system needs to be sensitive to this reality and must develop inspection strategies which can understand and accredit what is actually happening rather than insisting that everything is changed into something inspectors can easily accredit.

Unless Sir Michael can convince the NAHT and the ASCL that he does understand the variety of best practice in discipline and that he is absolutely dedicated to reforming inspection to take account of it then he should go.

sarah dodds's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 05:51

I think what concerns me about Ofsted is how the contracts are awarded. Private companies are issued the contracts on an area by area basis. There is no one entity that makes a "single" Ofsted. I find it hard to compute that an academy sponsor such as CfBT can also hold contracts for Ofsted inspections in the NE England. There are too few fingers in too many pies sometimes!

andy's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 09:49

I agree entirely, Sarah. It has long been my position that Ofsted should be independent of government/party political ideologies. The joint issues of politicization and vested/clash of interests should be of serious concern to everyone.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 10:35

The most important step towards achieving this would be to pass an order which obliged Ofsted to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) for all its actions.

andy's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 10:02

No matter which way one cuts it there has been a well founded cycnicism surrounding Ofsted since its inception, and this hasn't improved. Indeed, Sir Michael had cemented and deepened the mistrust. It is also factually accurate to say that there has been an ongoing issue regarding the recruitment into English, Maths and the Sciences (particularly Physics) for a very long time (15+ years). We've seen golden hellos, the old management allowance responsibility points (for retention), paying the top TLRs and now stepping heads of faculty up to ALT and full SLT status. This a reflection of the dearth of graduates entering the profession and the high impact it is now having in the ability to recruit middle leaders. It is demonstrably not caused exclusively by Sir M and/or Ofsted, although his aggressive rhetoric and posturing will have added to the situation but the latter is true for recruiting senior leaders and retaining younger teachers per se. The SoS and Ofsted regime are squeezing the life out of the professions appetite for colleagues to either stay or seek promotion. That said, the first significant mutterings started under the previous government and its top down approach that included refocusing Ofsted.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 10:32

"It is demonstrably not caused exclusively by Sir M and/or Ofsted"
Andy - I am a head of maths who will not go back to that position because all the schools that I want to work in are either in special measures, on notice to improve or in serious danger of both - because they are all schools in challenging circumstances. All the schools along the West Coat of Cumbria are in this situation - all of them Andy. I am part of many networks and this is a widespread problem.

How on earth can you say it is demonstrably not a problem?

I do agree that it is a problem which has been developing for a long time. It has got substantially worse this year. It seems to be the case that there are a lot of Ofsted inspectors around who have not worked in challenging schools and who have seen the video of Mossbourne and come out to fail any schools which doesn't fell like Mossbourne.

Are you not aware of the ignorance of what is going on Andy? Why do you think the issue has so suddenly arisen at the NUT and NAHT conferences? Do you think they're all socialist ideologues who are just looking to cause trouble and are totally out of touch with the real world as the press would have us believe?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 10:33

Oops - sorry Andy - misread your comment without the 'exclusively' bit. Please excuse the rant.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 15:35

'I find it hard to compute that an academy sponsor such as CfBT can also hold contracts for Ofsted inspections in the NE England. There are too few fingers in too many pies sometimes!'.

Sorry,if this sounds out of touch but I really had not thought out the implications of this. Could they end up inspecting one of their own schools? Surely not.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 15:55

I'm increasingly concerned about such organisations as CfBT and Serco having contracts for inspection. Although accountable to Ofsted, what structures are in place to ensure that inspectors on the ground are competent ie properly qualified and experienced? The quality and consistency of inspectors was one of the concerns of NAHT members reported in TES (4 May, not available on-line).

Organisations like Serco and CfBT have a vested interest in schools "failing" Ofsted - such schools are ripe for conversion and being taken over by chains and offered services by education providers.

I think a vote of no confidence in Ofsted will arrive sooner rather than later.

Kevin Campbell's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 17:33

Now that's a very interesting point.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 10/05/2012 - 13:46

"I think a vote of no confidence in Ofsted will arrive sooner rather than later."

It seems he's determined to force his own departure.

How dare he say we don't know what stress is?

What does he think running a maths department in a schools in special measures with a seriously challenging cohort while dealing with 7 external inspections a year and being a single mum is like?

How on earth can he think I'm criticising Ofsted because I'm workshy? I'm criticising Ofsted because it's a profoundly ignorant and damaging organisation and there's no need for it to be. Schools deserve the same quality and standards of inspection that everyone else gets. The reason they don't get it is because Ofsted directors are not taking the organisation in the direction of modern professional standards because it doesn't suit them personally to do so.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 09/05/2012 - 15:59

I'm wondering to what extent inspectors are employed on freelance and associate contracts which mean they can be instantly fired with no possibility of challenging their dismissal if they are not in favour?

andy's picture
Thu, 10/05/2012 - 13:56

Janet: I agree that there is every likelihood that at least one professional association will ballot for a direct vote of no confidence in Sir Michael but as to whether this will extend to Ofsted per se is another issue. I do not see that this or any other government are likely to set Ofsted free from direct input but offering up the scalp of its leading voice is much easier.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 10/05/2012 - 16:04

andy - I think you're possibly right when you say that no government is "likely to set Ofsted free from direct input" (ie putting politically-motivated pressure on Ofsted to judge schools in a particular way; constantly moving the goalposts so that more schools "fail" and so on). However, I think parental pressure would grow if Ofsted were felt to be unreliable. Parents need to know that Ofsted's judgements are fair, unbiased and free from political interference.

There have been enough dubious judgements recently to justify Ofsted's removal - the about-turn assessment of Downhills, for example, which was improving thanks to strong leadership and the support of the LA in the Autumn and is now a "failing" school because Mr Gove wants to enforce academy conversion. The harsh verdict on Caistor Yarborough Academy is another example (the academy has filed 49 complaints about its recent inspection).


Then there's the muddled and confusing messages coming from Ofsted about what makes an "outstanding" lesson.


And the long-running dispute about redefining "satisfactory" to mean "unsatisfactory":


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 10/05/2012 - 17:39

Janet I think the cases you are reporting are just the tip of the iceberg.

In many cases I am hearing of now Ofsted are massively failing schools on all counts including leadership and governance and schools are unable to fight it or object.

People are not talking about it because if you do you'll be first out the door in the inevitable cull, you'll cause more trouble for other poeple and you'll be effectively unemployable in your local area and of courst most teachers can't easily move.

Then of course there will be many people involved with the school who believe what the inspectors are saying - that with a few adjustments and a new head the school will suddenly be Mossbourne academy.

Ofsted directors have been actively weaving a myth that there are genuine reasons why they must not be subject to the same law and stardards as other regulators. http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/ofsted-part-2-jou...
How on earth to they make people believe that state schools have no right to the the same standards of inspection and that apply almost everywhere else? Why do Ofsted have to be accountable to no-one? How many complaints have people heard about other regulators since the new laws came into force in 2006?

Neil's picture
Sat, 22/09/2012 - 20:40

The teaching unions should organise the profession so that when the inspectors arrive at the school the teachers walk out. So there is no inspection and the children are sent home. Imagine the howls of angush from parents, newspapers and politicians if this were happening across the country. How long would Wilsher last? Two weeks? If he wants to play hardball, lets give him hardball.

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