How current assumptions in the system are limiting the conditions for growth in challenging schools – Ofsted the accountability machine

Can an accountability regime support school improvement?

Since Ofsted’s conception, my school had never achieved a Good judgement.

My experience of Ofsted has been extensive, having chosen to work predominantly in challenging schools, as a head I felt a veteran. During my headship we experienced five formal inspections and three internal inspections, within my seven-year tenure. My views on Ofsted are divided. During my earlier career and my first years as head, I held a significant admiration and respect for the work of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI). The latter part of my headship led me to a bitter disillusionment with the inspection process, and a proportion of its inspectorate. In particular, the work force that became sourced to private companies in the expansion years of Michael Wilshaw’s regime. This was the inspectorate we faced in the last two Requiring Improvement (RI) inspections, over a period of three years. Prior to this, I had only ever experienced inspections led by HMI.  In this piece of writing, I am interested in exploring, what it was that changed my views so significantly and lead to my final belief that we could never win?

I declare my bias, the last inspection judgement I received was the hardest to take. I had very little respect for the team, or the process they generated. It also led me, ever closer to losing the job I loved and to significantly damaging my future career as a head. It potentially put other leaders of the school at risk of the same fate, and I carried this burden heavily. Please remember after the second RI inspection the third in eighteen months would have put us into a category, and a sponsorship take- over would have ensued.

In my first years of headship, I respected the inspection process, yet perhaps this was merely because I was flattered and praised regularly. But is there more to it then my own ego?

I am going to begin by revisiting each inspection during my headship, to explore why I have become so disillusioned.

At the beginning of my first headship, three months in, Ofsted arrived and flagged what the LA and I knew, the school was failing. Working closely with the HMI throughout the two- day inspection was invaluable. I became focused on impact not strategy. This was the beginning of the don’t tell me, show me inspections. It was also the time when the regime was beginning to allow heads more access to the main discussions between the HMI. This was where the triangulation of evidence and bench marking against the standards occurred. A fantastic opportunity to watch highly skilled individuals rigorously assess the school, draw the threads together, and give a clear action plan of what we needed to do in order to improve.  Accountability in action, I respected their final judgement, Failing. Yes, this was made easier, as I had little ownership of the label. I had just arrived. But I valued most, the clear areas for action. I was pleased we were given Notice to Improve not Special Measures, this recognised the leadership as having the capacity to improve.

Six months later the interim inspection, led by another HMI with a reputation for incisive data analysis, spent two days assessing our progress. Again I was party to his thinking and his evaluation. His process was open, transparent and informative. We received the first good progress he had ever given at an interim inspection.

Once again, he was able to draw the threads of the progress we were making together, into clear precise ways forward. Do you know how hard it is to find the three key elements that will drive a school forward when so much is wrong? Simplicity is a high order skill, and one that is totally necessary for failing schools and school improvement. These HMI helped me to see my way through this and to plant the green shoots, (their words) for transformational elements of school improvement. Their knowledge had the flexibility to take in the school context and to draw on experiences from a whole range of schools across the country. HMI solutions were always individualised to the school and the community. They were never off the peg or factory generated. It was exciting times, as I was working with real experts of school improvement.

Just over six months later our Section 5 inspection took place, to assess whether we could move away from failing and into the then satisfactory category. The pressure was immense, but our confidence high. This turned out to be the hardest inspection I, and staff have ever had to jump. There was no room for manoeuvre or negotiation. The evidence had to be there with the students and the classrooms. The HMI team were again exceptional, open, transparent and able to read the school and students swiftly. I guess if I have referred to my students as similar to the Terminator, then I can take the leap of faith to relate the Ofsted team to Vela raptors. Beautifully aligned with each other, with the lead inspector as the Alpha, they were everywhere in the school. Throughout that process, my middle leadership were under review and the Lead Inspector spent significant time with me, assessing my ability to understand and deliver on the next steps. His team discussions were transparent and insightful. Eventually we made the leap, and again we left with a plan, that was simple but transformational. We were now satisfactory.

Throughout the inspection the HMI were consistent but not tick box in their approach. As I reflect, I am aware this was generated from the structures that were in place to ensure the small inspectorate as it was then met regularly to debate, confer and benchmark their judgements. I learnt, that they spent time, talking about the heads that they worked with and tracking our progress. They genuinely wanted us to succeed. I believe they saw a substantial part of their role, as educators supporting leadership to make the required changes to understand why.. Sadly, at this point my relationship with the HMI stopped. Unusually for a Requiring Improvement school, we always achieved the judgement of Good for leadership. (The highest judgement you can achieve in an RI school) This meant that we did not receive an interim inspection between the eighteen months before the next assessment. Therefore, I did not have access to an HMI visit which actually in hindsight, would have been really helpful! Yes this would have bought our total in seven years to six inspections, but it was always a learning process with HMI.

Swiftly our new designation of Satisfactory was removed to Requiring Improvement, and as the regime ramped up to inspect these schools along with failing schools far more. It realised it needed a larger inspectorate. Unfortunately for me my last two inspections were undertaken by privatised companies outsourced from Ofsted and only involved additional inspectorate, there were no HMI. At the time the inspection process became directly related to your ability as a head to remain in your post. Michael Wilshaw announced after repeated Requiring Improvements and you would be out.

I was given the most inexperienced teams with no HMI for the latter half of my headship. I will explore the last inspection as an example of an additional inspectorate outsourced inspection. I repeat again, I am biased, I didn’t like the inspection decision, and so this needs to be read with that in mind.

My disillusionment began when I was faced with a team who met for the first time on my school gates. This meant they had never bench marked together, or formed a relationship in which they were able to debate with rigour but without emotion. Led by an additional inspector who was seconded from his role as an assistant Head of 6th form. Followed by an ex- head teacher who had led a school in the bottom 5% of the country’s schools in 2008,and was now back roomed in an Academy chain. One of her first quotes to my Deputy was, “you can’t do this”. She was referring to the behaviour of our students which was excellent, somehow she thought we were cheating! An early years’ inspector with little experience of secondary, and a new inspector a deputy head of a challenging school, who offered the greatest insight in her recommendations. The failed head inspector behaved badly on the first day and unprovoked, swore during a meeting. I reported this to the Lead, but was only asked whether I wanted to take this further, right at the moment we were about to get our feedback. I stupidly declined. In hindsight what a hideous time to ask me, with the inspector in front and just about to give her feed back to the others on her judgments of the school!

We were allowed to join the meetings on both days where an assimilation of evidence was collated, and on the second day where the judgements were made. Having witnessed the rigour and immense skill that HMI take to collate and cross check, then question again and again, each other to ensure they all agree with the judgement. I found the tick box exercise this team delivered extremely disappointing. Their eye was constantly on the clock and their judgement felt made, before we had even started. It rested on our attainment from the last year, not our new data or the quality of the lessons they had seen.

Although I never asked any of my staff, a strong member of the leadership who was in the next room to the team, during the second day. Felt the need to tell us, that the lead inspector had spent most of the day on the phone to the private provider, explaining that we were close to good but last year’s data made it a risk. He believed this year’s data looked strong but the results weren’t out, he wanted advice? HMI would have seen the green shoots, this inspector was looking for an oak tree from an 18 – month turnaround and one set of results.

I am still sore about the result, not yet good. But I have faith that if I felt the team had delivered an insightful and meaningful evaluation and process, and were able to clarify a way forward, the pain would have been worth it.  The opposite occurred, as the poor discussion resulted in a report that was badly written. (A brave statement to make considering I am daring to pen a book together!) Even more disappointing the ways forward commentary left me not with key areas to develop, but fourteen random statements that did not pattern with the rest of the report or collate together as strategic development.

At this point I felt the process of inspection had become a factory procedure of churn. The growing cacophony of sound within the profession with regard to inconsistency in Ofsted became clear to me. We seemed to have moved to a system of many inspections but with far less quality and rigour. Our accountability machine seemed very damaged and lacking. The privatisation had left us with a tick box process, the ability to recognise green shoots long gone. A team of inspectors who had never benchmarked together, and with weak links in the inspectorate who were inadequate. Clearly the expansion and downgrading of the inspectorate plays a major part in my alienation with this process, but I think there is more to it. I really felt I couldn’t win. Why?

What was the aim behind Ofsted and how did this change over my period of headship?

In order to explore my disillusionment further, I decided to look at the Annual reports in detail to ascertain the ethos and philosophy set by the Chief inspectorate for the inspection since I became a Head and match this against my experience as a Head on the ground!  In describing what I have found, I have taken the approach of summarising the philosophy and or aim from each annual report. For the chiefdom of Michael Wilshaw, 2012 onwards I have identified the key findings from the previous years’ as I believe this is relevant to why my alienation began to grow. I have then matched this analysis to what was going on in education and the impact on my school.

2009 – 2010 Annual report : Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert –

Aim for the inspectorate: Christine Gilbert was advocating the purpose of the inspection was, “scrutiny but also challenge”. She refocused Ofsted back into the classroom and advocated inspections should use data as a, “sign post not a destination”. She highlighted what seems to be a new role at the time, “Increasingly, where inspectors find practice that is not up to scratch they return, not just to review and challenge, but as agents of improvement. Few people are better placed to identify what brings about improvement in a range of contexts and organisations than experienced inspectors”.

What was happening in education policy and what was I experiencing on the ground? At this moment contextual valued added was used to inform the inspectorate about schools. Although concerns over comparing schools to similar cohorts of students were being raised and listened to.  The key measure for schools was 5 A- C including English and Maths. The handbook (where you find the benchmarks for which we are judged against) refocused attention back into the classroom. This focus was supportive of the work I needed to do.

In reviewing my experience of HMI as a failing school in 2009 and 2010, they were agents of improvement who set clear and individualised guidance for my school. This support was demanding and challenged us all.

Using “data as signposts not destinations”, was also evident in action in the HMI inspections. Actually if the HMI had relied only on data, we may not have reached failing! As I explained in an earlier chapter my Deputy of the Curriculum, was so able to manipulate the choices of students and the system of exams. (All above board, but perfect game playing.) Our data held up to the 5 A- C measures. Our attendance and behaviour data also painted a rosy a picture that was inaccurate at best and manipulated beyond all recognition at worst. We looked far better than the reality, the school was a well- hidden disaster!

2010 – 2011 Annual Report: Chief Inspector Miriam Rosen

Aim for the Inspectorate: With the advent of the new Coalition Government Ofsted had a dramatic overhaul. The accountability systems main aim became, “Raising standards and improving lives”. In order to achieve this, the Chief Inspector announced that there was to be a move to proportionate inspection where there was failure. Inherent in this decision was the belief that more inspection for failing schools the more the process will bring about school improvement. By inspecting and labelling transformation will occur. There is no clarity as to how this will materialise. Christine Gilbert’s idea that HMI can be agents of change has disappeared along with her! The emphasis lay in review and challenge.

Areas highlighted from the scrutiny of inspections in 2010 – 2011: An area of major concern was the fact that while eighty – five percent of all schools were judged good, or outstanding, only three percent of secondary and four percent of primary were outstanding in their teaching and learning.  A third of all inspections showed passive classes and dull teaching.  An outstanding school might be achieving above national results, but in this system it could still be challenged to improve its teaching. Should their results be supersonic, as discussed previously in the high parent power chapter, not just good? In the same vein a school that wasn’t achieving in line with national expectations, could be recognised in this system for having good quality teaching…. It identifies that it could be doing great work but the impact is less immediate and with less effect.

What was happening in education policy and what was I experiencing on the ground? We lifted from inadequate to satisfactory during this period, and the HMI inspection left me in no doubt of the challenge in the system. Judgements on schools moved swiftly away from any value added, purely to attainment (what pupils achieve) regardless of a child’s starting points. The Local Authority (LA) were coming under increasing attack from the new Government and the expansion of academies was under way.

In our local area all good schools and above were converting to single status academies. We were unable to begin this process. The Teaching Alliance policy was in formation, with outstanding schools designated as the only schools able to lead. This meant that the funding and support for schools designated as “at risk” was moving from the LA responsibility to that of the Teaching Alliance. Practically this meant the really supportive LA were restricted from the work they had begun and instead, in the future I would be working with an “outstanding head” from an outstanding school.

At this time sourcing teachers in Maths, English, and Science was becoming difficult, and we were using our training capacity to find new teachers and recruit. However, we were still moving forward.

2011 – 2012 Annual report Chief Inspector : Michael Wilshaw

Aim for the Inspectorate: This annual report stands out as completely different. The sharp glossy image unfolded to reveal rather a full blown state of the nation declaration. Written in the first person I can’t help hearing trumpets in fanfare, every-time I read it. As it was the 20th anniversary of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw reviewed the past, and praised the process for: “the creation of bench marks with clear performance criteria, rigorous evidence resulting in transparent accountability, school improvement and the routing out of dreadful schools.”

He followed with another fanfare (sorry that is just in my head), and then trumpeted his former success with disadvantage students and his experience. He reviewed the current progress nationally, and internationally and combined the ingredients by which he achieved his success, with international comparisons, to propose areas he would challenge and improve. He introduced the removal of Satisfactory as a label with the grade Requiring Improvement and committed to increasing inspection. He let schools know he would, “walk away but monitor, inspect, challenge and support.” You are left wondering if the edited version added the support. If this superhero can do it, why can’t we all?

His summary chapter title, “Ofsted will contribute more to improving schools” and “Raising standards with a focus on the disadvantage” sums up his agenda. Inspecting schools is now considered a significant if not key ingredient for school improvement, those that are deemed to Require Improvement or Failure will be inspected more. The stick approach arrived at large, as the Chief inspector believed he had the answer to improve schools and expected all to follow his recipe. One size fitted all. It was his way or the highway.

Sorry at this moment in writing I get the giggles, as I consider we were operating with not one alpha male with the “God complex” [i] but two, Mr Gove also!

While carrying out this research, I was really keen to see whether the percentage of observed outstanding teaching had increased. Nowhere in his report can we see what has happened to the amount of outstanding teaching and learning in schools. It is demarcated for colleges but not schools. This triggered my memory that around this time the handbook guidelines, our criteria for judging schools, conjoined attainment directly to teaching. Creating a situation where if attainment was strong, teaching was considered outstanding and vice a versa. I think this is one of the key death knolls for schools like mine, who receive significantly below average students. If attainment was not exceeding nationals it became impossible to achieve outstanding, or to see our teaching as anything but failing. Along with the downgrading of inspectorate this was a crucial in leading to my school never being able win at the Ofsted game and here begins my disillusionment.

What was happening in education policy and what was I experiencing on the ground? I was in the process of establishing a new school improvement partner from a select group of Heads. Who due to their school Outstanding status, had been designated national school leaders to support heads like me. The LA were reluctantly retreating from intensive school support, acting only as a broker to finding us, a partner to work with.

The chaos of the new recruitment system arrived, and the number of newly qualified staff (NQT) nationally went down. Shortages in Science equalled those of Maths and English. The move to NQTs using agencies increased significantly, and the cost of recruitment augmented by an average of £4000 per NQT.

I remember a specific discussion, with my middle leaders at the time. Looking at the newest handbook and subject specific guidance, we concluded if you were teaching a bottom set you could never achieve a judgement of outstanding as a teacher, the link to attainment was so direct. What I feared but chose to ignore was the note to myself in this meeting, that this would then be the same for the whole school. It said, “How can we win?”.

Vocational qualifications were cut, and down-graded and coursework per se in subject areas disappeared. Teacher assessments were replaced by the exam process. Attainment was the ruling factor for success. Value added had gone, and we now had to take our significantly below average cohort and rapidly accelerate their progress to achieve national and above if we wanted good.

As a Requiring Improvement school, we became locked from funding streams and the lucrative extra cash that you received as a sweetner for converting to an academy. We could only put ourselves up for sponsorship. The public purse cuts meant in real terms our budget became squeezed alongside us, still recovering from the deficit.

The areas intake decreased and while our relative share of year six’s remained the same, actual numbers decreased leaving us open to more excluded students, more vulnerable and SEND students.

Our 6th form was rewarded with good. At this time value added remained a key judgement in the outcomes for the 6th form. However, the national funding for the sixth form began a significant reduction process.


2012 – 2013 Annual report Chief Inspector : Michael Wilshaw

Aim for the Inspectorate : As above, the mantra remained inspection will improve standards. As his main evidence for the success of the RI initiative he wrote,” 90% of RI schools are making SATISFACTORY progress in remedying weaknesses!” This made me laugh again as I continued to research. He noted there were more children in good or outstanding schools and concluded inspection grades reflect better teaching.

Areas highlighted for scrutiny of the inspections in 2012 and 2013: He reports on the first group of academy sponsors succeeding in improving schools. Primary providers were identified as improving faster than secondary. Gifted and talented students and low income students were highlighted as not making expected progress. For the first time this is delineated further. White working class students were identified as the least likely to make progress. Secondary provision is considered variable depending on the region. The Local Authority (LA) comes under criticism particularly where regions are performing badly. At this point the Regional Inspectors were introduced as those who will hold schools and LAs and trusts to account. Poor outcomes are attributed to low expectation in leadership.

What was happening in education policy and what was I experiencing on the ground: Secondary assessment change was in full flow, with grade boundaries for GCSE students hiked. Teacher assessments disappeared from the GCSE and A level courses. The reverse occurred in primary assessment; autonomy and professional judgement were reintroduced for assessments in English writing and Science.  For secondary schools this is the year that the English results go into free fall. Never seen before, uplifts in grades occurred. Our C-D borderline students are impacted.

We had requested to work with our nearest Teaching Alliance, an outstanding school consortium to train beginning teachers. We had been ignored on three occasions, and we had no access to the regions new recruits.

Recruitment became even harder. Modern Foreign Language and Design and Technology struggled to recruit, and with the introduction of league tables with the EBAC grades, Humanities teachers were hard to find. An opportunity to recruit externally a senior team member, leaves us with a very poor field.

We were working with an outstanding school to support school improvement. We were preparing for our first RI inspection. Number four and five of the handbook grade changes took place this year, since my headship.

2013  2014  Annual report Chief Inspector : Michael Wilshaw

Aim of the Inspectorate: Our Chief Inspector reiterated inspections made a difference and quoted international studies to show this. The number of inspections had increased and to support this the rapid expansion of the inspectorate took place. The role had expanded to include inspection of LA’s where regional performance is poor. There are regional reports from the regional inspectors in this report.

Areas highlighted for scrutiny of the inspections in 2012 and 2013:  The statistics showed improvement in primary but not in secondary, not with the disadvantaged or white working class. Progress re- entered the arena and became tied in with attainment and teaching. Primary improvement is marked with eighty-two percent now good and eighty-five percent with good leadership or above. Progress in secondary schools had stalled and more schools are failing.

The factors for primary success are attributed to the willingness of primary heads to engage with Requiring Improvement, the leadership ability to keep a close scrutiny of learning, strong governing bodies challenging, phonics testing, and seven year- old assessment checks (teacher assessed) which also showed improvement. He noted narrowing the gap between pupil premium and non- pupil premium occurred at a faster rate in primaries and the able were more likely to be stretched.  He identified teaching at key stage 3 as not challenging. Low level disruption was highlighted as an issue.

The previous theme of white working class failure and regional difference were given greater coverage. This time while noting the first sponsored academies are closing gaps he identified some multi trusts who have not achieved school improvement.

Significant issues with teacher training, were recognised and problematic. He is the first to have identified that the areas that have least Teaching Alliances correspond to the areas that are white working class and the socio economically most disadvantaged.  The further education (FE) were highlighted for failing to improve the outcomes for children, who had failed English and Maths level 2 courses. Swiftly this becomes an accountability measure for post 16 league tables.

What was happening in education policy and what was I experiencing on the ground? The Teaching Alliance, after continued asking had still failed to provide us with one beginning teacher to support. My frustration at the time was boiling over. No secondary in our area was outstanding, so none of us could form a Teaching Alliance. We began to look at how we can flout the system, as recruitment issues were horrendous. Agencies were charging huge fees, and the Times Educational Supplement TES, was not resulting in any candidates.  FE colleges were at the time desperately trying to recruit English and Maths teachers. The new measure in league tables and Ofsted expectation had a knock on effect, and increased the shortage of Maths and English teachers further. The situation in our area becomes ridiculous, with the college advertising a £45,000 salary for a basic maths and english teachers. How could we compete?

As a result, we began 2014 with four substandard teachers in Maths. We moved SLT into Maths to ensure the behaviour was appropriate at all times, and we moved to a system of intensive coaching, with our lead teachers including myself, positioned in the class with the inadequate teachers in order to train them swiftly. We run almost the whole year with temporary Head of Faculty, but we were fortunate to have an outstanding mathematician in the senior team, and the support of a strong LA maths advisor. Unbelievably the results came in due to rigorous and regular assessment and intervention. All that coaching paid off, as the teachers improved rapidly bar one who was moved on swiftly.

As I had three year groups significantly below number, our budgets continued to shrink.  A local academy decided to increase its number by sixty pupils which exacerbated the problem. None of these places were needed in the area. We received a significant quota of excluded students in the Summer of year nine, they were pupil premium, with multiple vulnerabilities and disruption in their lives. After a year and half with us, they achieved five A-C grades, and a C in English. Our maths team can’t quite get them to the C in Maths. Two of them are jailed within two months of leaving the school. As they didn’t achieve the C in Maths they hit our figures hard, in terms of Pupil Premium progress. Interestingly the school that they came from, wins a regional award for pupil premium. I missed the strategy which said kick out your multiple and most vulnerable pupil premium, who are the hardest to move, this will improve figures. Still it’s the system and market forces are in action.

Thirteen students with six different languages arrived in the school through admissions between September and Christmas.

New GCSE and A levels raised the bar higher and the grade hikes at secondary continue to impact.

We had minimum contact with the LA as the Teaching Alliance and outstanding schools no drove school improvement. The annual report however, criticised Las for not improving schools and challenging leadership, regardless of the fact that they are removed from supporting schools like mine.

I took on the teaching of a bottom set in Science, who due to the changes made by the Government half way through a Science course, had to move to a new course in order for it to have currency for them.

Performance management has been under rigorous scrutiny, inspections were looking for evidence that thresholds have been held back due to poor performance. The coalition government changes to pay and statutory conditions had come in. At this point I should have been restricting the progress of my Head of English and others because the GCSE exam results were lower, due to the grade hikes that hit a number of schools the previous year. I don’t and the Governors support this decision. Our future inspection looked at this set of results as its base judgement.

We were taking significantly below average students, and achieving average progress with all disadvantaged groups but we just missed the national average by 1%. We remained Requiring improvement GRRRRHHHHHH. It felt like starting a race 300 metres behind everyone else, coming in second but that isn’t good enough because all we care about is attainment not the journey run. Leadership, behaviour and the 6th form are judged good.

Key stage 3 levels were about to go. We were told that the DfE would wait for the outstanding schools to come up with the great new assessment ideals, and then disseminate these. In 2016 we are still waiting.

I feel like I am moving from a chaotic school to a chaotic system. SEND started the process of transformational change. Attendance expectations were raised and suddenly, excluded children’s results remain our responsibility. With no ability to recruit it is difficult to see how we will achieve Good.

I started to seek potential sponsors to support the school. I was clear I was looking for power and educational influence. I recognised that in seeking this support I am most likely to seek myself out of a job.

2013 -2014 Annual report Chief Inspector : Michael Wilshaw

Aim of the Inspectorate: This report moves away from proclamation to scrutiny of the data and highlighted growing problems for schools in challenging circumstances.  There is interestingly far less about stick beating and far more about scrutiny of issues. Even the LA received praise at one point!

Areas highlighted from the scrutiny of inspections 2013 – 2014: Continuing improvement in primary education are identified. The growing gap between regions in particular the north south divide, are considered and there is a call for the collective action within these regions.  Our chief inspector, outlined his belief that structural reform can only go so far, and highlighted the variances in academies particularly those that aren’t Multi Academy Trusts. He identified a growing shortage of teachers and leaders particularly in the most disadvantage areas and recognised that recruitment in these areas is was difficult. He talked of a two tier system those that can recruit and those that don’t. He identified the growing overseas market as increasing the burden of recruitment. He acknowledges successful Multi Acadmey Trust (MAT) have worked with the LA in particular regions.

This next scrutiny of data breaks my heart. Under quarter of all white working class low income students achieve five A- C with English and Maths. No wonder the failed head inspector kept telling us, “you can’t do this with these kid” as if we had sprayed magic powder over their behaviour! Even worse than this the report stated boys from this group perform at the level of SEND students, which I believe to be around nine – percent , five A- C including English and Maths. Under my headship we reached fifty- six percent five A – C with this cohort yet we never achieved Good. We were never allowed a context. Please note we had significantly more boys than girls in each year group.

What was happening in education policy and what was I experiencing on the ground? The new national curriculum arrived. Academies were able to detour from it. We were still awaiting the example from outstanding schools and their new assessment ideas. New GCSE and A levels began in a number of subjects.  We were told primary testing will be bought in for, four, seven and eleven year olds. Bench mark floor figures came from nowhere and rose and rose again.

The Governors agreed to seeking a sponsor and the process began. Like me in this process they were all likely to have to stand down. This made me sad as this was the strongest Governing body I had at the school. I am inundated with work, and my ability to remain at the centre of school improvement is hindered significantly by the process of academisation. This is common. I began the year not knowing whether I would be a head or not at the end of the process. My work life balance is so poor, my husband stopped working to support the family.  I taught Science from January as we could not find a decent Scientist. I experienced anxiety and a bout of depression for the first time in my life. The role had consumed me at this point.

Recruitment is even more impossible. Having exhausted Ireland, Canada and New Zealand supply agencies then turned to the Caribbean to recruit.

Our budget having come out of deficit looked set to return with the coming real term cuts. Our numbers of applicants to the school remained below our standard number. We were asked to take a child who wears nappies and has legitimate psychotic tendencies. There was no funding accompanying this child. I refused and a legal battle ensues.

2014 – 2015 Annual report Chief Inspector : Michael Wilshaw

Aim of the inspectorate and scrutiny: The report focused on the regional divides and their causes. The North and Midlands are identified as key regions of underperformance. He used key stage one results as an example of improvement over the last three years. He does not make the link that these are teacher assessed. He identified particular local authorities as failing, and related political will and local action as key to improving the situation. He concluded that Academies can create the conditions for remarkable improvement but structural reform can only go so far.

He identified the capacity for school improvement is balanced on the ability to attract good leaders and teachers into the most disadvantaged schools. He heralded the fact that the new remit for the National College for Teaching and Leadership has placed the responsibility for the school’s system to grow its own leaders. He recognised that that the current arrangements are not targeted to deliver the leaders they need. He is concerned over the absence of information on the supply of head teachers his concern over where this supply is going to come from has encouraged him to commission a new report. His concern over supply is mirrored in his concern over the recruitment of teachers. There are no changes to his regime in light of the problems he highlighted and labelling continued despite the revealing scrutiny.

What was happening in education policy and what was I experiencing on the ground? Primary schools were gearing up for the new tests that were being reintroduced into the system. Secondary GCSE and A level changes continued ad infinitum, deadlines for the completion of specifications were missed and publications to support learning delayed. To date there are still thirty five qualifications awaiting confirmation for a start in September.

Recruitment moves into the realms of impossibility. I am defeated. I managed a week off, in the year as the sponsorship process took hold. My working hours exceeded ninety hours a week. My Finance manager and I look at the REAL term cuts for education and remarked we have no idea how to operate the school with these cuts within three years.

Due to budget cuts, two more academies in the local area increased their numbers of students that they can take, in a bid to sustain their shrunken budgets. These places are also not needed and have a direct impact in a reduction in our numbers and budget.


The inspection process and subsequent labelling limited growth within my school and others. This process has not been about school improvement. The devaluing of the inspectorate has added to this failure to improve the system. Primary schools improve when teacher assessments are returned. How will they fair in the new era of testing and accountability?

If Ofsted purpose under Mr Wishaw was to “contribute more to improving schools” 2012 annual report. The process failed.


[i] Tim Harford, “Trial Error and the God complex TED Global 2011

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