At a meeting recently, a head teacher produced a document listing all the new things her teachers, year groups and whole school had done this academic year. There must have been a couple of hundred of them. They were no order of importance, impact, scale or anything – just a big long list.
I loved this because it quite clearly showed how innovative, hard working and creative the staff and the school are. My daughter goes to that school and just by that big long list I know she is receiving an outstanding education.
This week I heard a Chair of Governors speak to a meeting of teachers about being an outstanding school. She said that the harsh reality was that schools needed to found by OFSTED to be outstanding. This is because that would lead to a better local reputation, which in turn would lead to more pupils in that school and that this would then mean that the jobs of people in that school would be safe.
The more I have thought about this, the more I have found myself in disagreement with it. The biggest problem with what he said was that it reduces my job as a teacher to just that – a job. It becomes something I do just for myself, to satisfy me and to put food on the table and a roof over my head. Of course I need to be paid for what I do and when the government wants to reduce the sustainable teacher pension that I am part of I get very angry. But the joy of teaching is seeing what your pupils gain and learn and to watch them develop as thinkers and as people.
If schools are run to win a notification from OFSTED that they are outstanding, then they have lost the purpose of education and have become no more than a statistic orientated bureau. Students become reduced to percentages (I heard a head teacher this year say his staff should put in more effort to this exam year group as they were a smaller cohort and each pupil’s results therefore counted for a higher percentage towards the schools target figure) and results have become king.
We are not here to prove to OFSTED that we are outstanding. They use up enough DfE cash each year (over £200 million) to be able to find that out themselves. As a school’s, teacher or senior manager we should be providing as many exciting, engaging and appropriate learning opportunities that we can for our children. We should trust our own judgement to do that and not look to see what part of the OFSTED criteria an activity might tick.
Finally, I think we overestimate what an OFSTED grading means to the parents in our area. Parents are not stupid. They don’t need to read a report written by someone who has visited a school for a day and a half. Parents talk to others who have children at our school about what they think of their child’s learning. And they will be told about all those things on that list that the pupils have experienced. It is the children and their parents and community we should be thinking of when we plan learning, not OFSTED.