How I apparently undermined Ofsted

I’ve become a tad obsessed with values lately. This is a good thing, I think, although it does preoccupy my thoughts to the point of probably being unhealthy. I even found myself driving round the block on the way to work last week so that I could listen to the end of Radio Four’s ‘Thought for the Day’. Not good and I had to have a quiet word with myself.

There are two reasons why I’m fixated with values. Firstly, I’m leading on a piece of work across the trust on the very same. Secondly, Ofsted. More about them later.

A few months ago, I read Alistair Campbell’s book ‘Winners’. It’s an enjoyable read and one I recommend. It’s one of those books that you can dip in and out of without missing the gist. At the heart of the book is his ‘holy trinity’ of Objectives, Strategy and Tactics (OST). He relates this concept not only to politics, education and business but also to great sporting leaders. At times, I got confused with the difference between the O and the S – a mistake that Campbell points out a number of major international organisations make. However, it seems to me that it boils down essentially to one thing: values. Objectives, strategy and tactics amount to nothing without a common set of key principles, values or beliefs that underpin all that you do. In short, these become your road map, a moral compass.

It is this road map that is fixating me at the moment. Getting it right is crucial, especially in the start-up phase of a multi-academy trust. It was hard enough aligning vision and values as a headteacher of a single school, let alone trying to do so across five academies, each one unique, autonomous and distinct. This is where a common set of agreed values are so important to drive strategy towards an objective. (As objectives go, ours is pretty straightforward: To make people become the best they can be. More about this is future posts.)

So, now to Ofsted. Until recently, I hadn’t realised quite how much I value the importance of free speech. It has never really been something I’ve thought about, as I’ve always taken it for granted. In a previous post I explained why I resigned from Ofsted as an inspector on account of them wanting to censor a post that I had written. They were evidently so worried about it that by the very act of reading it, your confidence in Ofsted would be undermined. I now take this as a great complement as I hadn’t realised that the piece had such profound power.

Support on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive. I saw a 3,000% spike on the number of visits to my blog. Local and national press picked up the story. Here, for example, is what @warwickmansell of the Guardian had to say:

 

Ofsted reveals thin skin after head’s blogpost

Finally, a headteacher who served as an Ofsted inspector for eight years has written about how he resigned from the inspectorate after being asked to remove sections of a blogpost that had been taken as criticising it.

Andrew Morrish, executive head of two West Midlands primary schools, writes of receiving a call from a “senior national director at Ofsted” saying that a blogpost in which he said “the process of inspection is flawed” was “not befitting of an inspector”.

Morris (sic) was told that the post “had to be cropped”. He refused. “I was being censored, gagged, call it what you like. However much I value the experience of inspecting schools … I would much rather retain my right to write freely. So I resigned,” he says. Morrish also says anyone reading his blog in full would see that it was pro-Ofsted. He may well have a point.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We do not believe in censorship”, but that inspectors must not “undermine confidence in the inspection system”. Morrish’s resignation, while disappointing, was “entirely his own decision”.

The chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has in the past encouraged successful heads such as Morrish to be inspectors, so we wonder if Ofsted can afford to lose such people in circumstances that some may take as having an authoritarian whiff about them.

 

So, on that note, and with a distinct whiff in the air, I shall draw a line under the whole matter. I shall not let the fact that Ofsted have refused to reply to my letter of complaint irk me.  Instead – in the knowledge that I am seemingly being snubbed by the national inspectorate – I shall revert to one of my favourite writers, Oscar Wilde: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Ouch.

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