Written evidence submitted by a Member of the public
Following a traumatic Ofsted inspection on 3rd and 4th July 2023, I want to share my experiences in order for change to happen to ensure people do not go through what I went through.
I am a senior leader in a small school of 187 on role. I carry multiple responsibilities including DSL, full time class teacher, early reading lead, maths lead, ECT mentor. In my school, the 4 senior leaders hold all subject lead roles due to the high amount of ECT’s (50% of teaching staff) due to the recruitment crisis.
During the inspection, on the 3rd and 4th of July, the pressure I felt was immense. The timetable sent by the HMI following the 90 minute phone call meant I needed to be in the reading and maths deep dive at the same time(despite already telling the HMI on the phone that I held both these responsibilities). This resulted in myself and the 4 other senior leaders having to spend a significant amount of time rearranging the timetable when this time could have been spent gathering the documents required for the inspection. The organisation of the timetable also impacted the day- to -day running of the school and put pressure on the school. This is due to the inspectors needing to speak to multiple teachers post lessons however we do not have additional staff so who was going to cover these lessons? The office staff and business manager used their good will to stand in for teachers during these discussions as senior leaders were also involved in meetings. School had to employ a supply teacher to cover my class due to needing to be out for the deep dives, meetings and observations. The head teacher and deputy head do lunch duties however the HMI timetabled the KIT meetings with the head teacher during these times. School was completely stretched. This was not considered during the inspection.
The other senior leader who held responsibility for geography and history (both were chosen for deep dives). He also had to manage 2 deep dives, teaching responsibilities, meetings and observations. This left both of us completely physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. The HMI acknowledged that the pressure on myself during the inspection was a lot but nothing was done to mitigate this during the inspection. How could I (or the other leaders) perform to our best with the immense pressure on the day?
The well-being of senior leaders was not considered and I would go as far as to say the direct actions taken by the HMI and the attitude of the HMI actually caused undue stress. The HMI often made additional requests such as asking for writing books and when we were delayed in doing so due to the pressure and having to be in several meetings/ deep dives and ensure the smooth running of the school it was met with an attitude as if we were being difficult.
During the feedback at the end of day 1, the HMI shared the evidence gathered so far. After the meeting, we discussed as a leadership team how we could gather evidence to challenge what the HMI was saying. However, when discussing this with the HMI the next day we were met with reluctance. For example, the HMI found writing as a thread and so we wanted her to watch a writing lesson and this was met with ‘Hmmm well you should’ve told me this earlier’. The writing lead (also the other senior leader and the leader involved in the geography and history deep dives) had to approach the HMI multiple times to request her to look at writing books that showed good progress. We were met with more reluctance. Preconceived ideas had already been made.
During the final feedback to the head, where all the senior leaders were invited, the HMI discussed the evidence for the judgements made. We heard evidence for what was working well and areas to develop. Although disappointing as we had been downgraded, there were positives alongside areas to improve. However, on receiving the draft report, the report was so damning and negative it felt as if what was shared by the HMI in the feedback meeting was miles apart. It felt like there was little to say that was positive (unlike the feedback meeting). In my opinion, the report was poorly written and although there may have been evidence to prove the statements made who quality assures the evidence base? This was one person’s perception. I went home and cried and told my partner didn’t know if I could do the job anymore.
During the inspection, I felt as if the historical decline in data of the school played a large part in the decision made by the HMI. I repeatedly told the HMI that our outcomes for KS1 and KS2 were really positive and in-line with the ambitious targets set in our SDP- this reflected clear improvements that had been made and an upward trajectory. However, I was told ‘I am here to inspect now not the future’. The data was not the future- it was a reflection of impact of the day-to-day teaching over the last year! How unfair. Just to make clear, the outcomes were - KS2&1 maths data was above national! KS1 writing and reading in line with national data. KS2 reading and writing only slightly below national. Huge improvements from the previous decline. This didn’t matter though. Ofsted had already made their mind up. Had Ofsted come two weeks later when KS2 SATs results had been released, their preconceived ideas may have been different! We were being judged on the past and nothing we did could prove anything different. How does this help school improvement?
As a school we are making a formal complaint to Ofsted, however, I don’t feel it will make any difference. Should we want to take things further for judicial review we simply won’t have the money. As a school, we are already in deficit budget so we are left voiceless. Unheard. Shattered. When all we want to do is make sure our children get the best they can in a system that bruises and scars the very teachers it should be looking after. If you want effective schools, you need to look after it’s teachers.
We will continue with the great things we are doing and focus on school improvement to ensure our children get the best they can regardless of whether Ofsted had come at the beginning of July or not. The only thing the inspection did for me was knock my confidence as a teacher and a leader. The system is broken. There is no support post Ofsted and we are left to carry on as normal. As I see it, it has given us some ideas on what to improve (we already knew these things) however, it has not given us tangible support or ideas on how to do it. We will carry on with school improvement as we would have done had they not come. This begs the question- what was the purpose of it?