Telling your wife you have a crush on someone else can be a tad awkward. That awkwardness multiplies when you explain that your crush is on a man; but trust me, it goes through the roof when you reveal that the focus of your affection is Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director.
There, I said it. Feel free to spit out your coffee in rage. My wife is also a teacher, so ultimately she went for the ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ approach. Ouch.
It is perhaps no surprise to anyone that research by the Institute of Education has shown that teachers in England have the lowest job satisfaction of all English-speaking countries. I am absolutely certain that aspects such as Ofsted, pointless bureaucracy, and the very latest in a long list of failed initiatives that you have seen on its third reincarnation in the last 10 years have all been key factors in the difficulties we face as a profession.
We’ve all got that Ofsted story and know of a school which has suffered at the hands of our would-be tormentors. At least when Harry sees the Dementors he gets to conjure up a white stag. All we get is to conjure up is the repeated phrase: it’ll all be over soon, it’ll all be over soon. I get all that, and am not for a minute defending the nonsense that has gone on over the years. What I want to say, though – and I am painfully aware that in doing so my Christmas card list will sizeably shrink from an already ‘select’ pool anyway – is that I think Ofsted is starting to get it. Believe you me I never thought I’d be thinking it, still less actually saying it out loud.
It all started about a year ago, when we got ‘the call’. What normally would have been the cue for four horsemen equipped with various regalia of the Apocalypse turned out instead to herald a productive visit from a small team of experienced, reasonable and student-centred inspectors. I thought maybe we had just got lucky, but as I began to read more I found myself in the novel situation of thinking that maybe, just maybe, things could be starting to change regarding our relationship with the dark and mysterious Ofsted spectre that hovers over us all.
Naturally, I put it down to some midlife crisis, and assured myself that at any moment I would go back to my usual man cave of cynicism and bitterness. Sure, Ofsted had done some sensible things, like take away grades for lessons, which as we all know were utterly absurd and incredibly damaging – but ultimately, the level of trust from the profession was still understandably low.
However, I realised my thoughts were maybe more than just a passing flirtation when I attended a seminar delivered by Sean Harford. There was talk about progress not being visible every 20 minutes, and how students learn at different rates; of reducing teacher workload; of not producing reams of meaningless data; of a varied and enriching curriculum being important in the holistic development of students; and of moving away from what many (myself included) would perceive as an absolute obsession with examination data as the only way in which the life (and value) of a young person can be measured. I may have swooned.
My emerging sense of optimism is based on the hope that we will have a professional dialogue with inspectors and feed into the consultation for the inspection framework of 2019 so that finally it can be fit for purpose. If we can engage in this process, and build on the green shoots of collaboration, the dream vision of education that we all signed up for might just move one small, but significant, step closer.
I don’t forget, and neither do I forgive, the multitude of historic Ofsted sins; but at the same time, I do think that, on occasion, the Ofsted Bogeyman has been exploited by some figures in the corridors of power in some schools, which helps no one.
So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and fix my ‘I love Sean’ poster up in my bedroom, in the hope that by next September it will still be there…
About the author
Andy Collard is deputy head at John Masefield High School. He does not work for Ofsted.