Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Watching the Watchdog: Feature

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Watching the Watchdog: Feature

Article excerpt

This weekend the NAHT will hold its annual conference and unveil its new website, School View, which will allow heads to have their say on inspectors' performance. Stephen Exley reveals how teachers' anger towards Ofsted prompted the site's creation.

One spring afternoon, primary headteacher Helen Scott was working in her office when the phone rang. As she picked up the receiver, little did she suspect the drama that was about to unfold.

It was Ofsted; Scott's school had received "the call". Inspectors, she was told, would be arriving the following Monday. The news would be enough to send any primary head into a panic. But, more than anything, Scott was simply baffled. The following week, as primary school heads up and down the country were all too aware, was Sats week.

"I said to him, 'But Ofsted doesn't come during Sats week'. He said: 'But you're not doing Sats, are you, Mrs Scott?'"

It was May 2010. Members of the NAHT heads' union had just made the controversial decision to boycott the national key stage 2 tests. Passionately opposed to the Sats regime, Scott had decided to support her union's stance; she had even been doing the rounds in the local media to explain her decision.

Now, it seemed, she was about to receive her come-uppance. "They must have seen me on the TV," she says. "They were just gunning for me. They were trying to catch us out. I could tell as soon as they walked in that's what was going to happen."

Scott believes that the lead inspector's mind had already been made up. Having been rated good three years previously, she was later told that the school had now been downgraded to satisfactory. "We were just devastated," she says.

Two weeks later, Ofsted contacted her again. "I was on a school trip - I was actually on top of Mont-Saint-Michel (in Normandy, France) at the time - when I had a phone call. I was told Ofsted wanted to talk to me and I needed to have a copy of the inspection report in front of me in 20 minutes."

With the stinging criticism from the lead inspector still fresh in her mind, Scott's heart began to pound. "Were they going to put us in special measures? It was the worst 20 minutes of my life," she says. Thankfully, the news was good; the school's grade, she was told, was being raised to good. "Somebody must have disagreed (with the lead inspector's original verdict). Quite rightly - it was rubbish. It was just a farce."

This is just one of many complaints about the conduct of Ofsted inspectors that have been received by the NAHT in recent years. Anecdotally, things have been getting worse since the revised inspection framework was introduced in January. And when Sir Michael Wilshaw's new framework - featuring no-notice inspections - comes into force in September, many fear that inconsistencies will become even more pronounced.

Last month, TES revealed that Ofsted does not have any records of how many of Her Majesty's Inspectors have been heads themselves, let alone what sector they have worked in ("Ofsted 'does not have details' of inspectors' previous experience", 6 April). As a result, the NAHT has warned, some schools are being assessed by inspectors who do not have a sufficiently strong grasp of the facets of school leadership that are peculiar to particular sectors.

The NAHT is refusing to take the matter lying down. With schools under increased scrutiny as a result of Ofsted's Parent View website, which allows parents to rate their child's school online for all to see, the heads' union has decided to turn the tables on the watchdog.

At the NAHT's annual conference in Harrogate this weekend, general secretary Russell Hobby will announce the launch of School View. This website, will, for the first time, allow heads to have their say on the performance of inspectors.

NAHT members will be asked to name the lead inspector who visited their school and rate them on their performance. They will, for example, be asked whether school staff were treated with respect and whether the head was "encouraged to participate in a professional dialogue with the inspection team". …

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