“It is with much soul searching that I decided I could no longer be associated with, or represent, Ofsted as an inspector or advocate. As someone who used to publicly praise and support Ofsted I find I can no longer defend the many flaws I now see in the system” … so started the resignation letter from Dame Nicola Stephenson DBE.
In the past I have heard school leaders talk about the inconsistencies in Ofsted and heard discussions about ‘rogue inspectors’. I used to be able to reassure colleagues that Ofsted is doing everything feasible to change this, including training all OIs alongside HMI. I have been able to calm leaders with examples of teams I have worked with who have listened to head teachers and valued their opinions. I truly believed Ofsted inspected without fear or favour.
However, having been alerted to the impact of a ‘rogue inspector’ and having tried my best to alert senior leaders within Ofsted about the discourteous conduct of this HMI, one who I have heard many complaints about, I have experienced the frustrations of having my genuine efforts to affect positive change dismissed, ignored and simply brushed under the carpet. My complaint provided examples of bad practice which I pointed out could be verified by many schools within the North East region, however I was told by the investigating officer that all complaints are seen as separate, investigated by separate people. How can that be effective? Surely if a pattern is building regarding an HMI with set views for example around delivery of reading, which do not feature in Ofsted or DFE guidance, then surely this should be identified and stopped. This is why Ofsted need an independent separate body to investigate complaints and whistleblowing. Ofsted investigating Ofsted is not working and school leaders are losing faith in the accountability Ofsted themselves face, or lack thereof.
Since complaining about the conduct of an HMI I have felt disregarded by Ofsted as an employee. No-one has offered to meet with me or engaged in meaningful dialogue in a professional manner. In fact I have found that as a result of my legitimately made complaint, one aspect of which was around safeguarding, I have felt intimidated at training sessions and have received emails that are blunt and discourteous. A senior regional HMI approached me at the end of my last training session in an intimidating manner and at that point I felt I could no longer work for an organisation that shows such disregard for its workforce and I strongly believe some have lost their moral compass. I complained about HMI conduct and have since felt intimidated and disillusioned so feel I have no choice but to resign. I can no longer be part of a system that has lost its way.
I also have huge reservations around the new methodology to finding evidence for the new framework. It is going to put primary colleagues under immense stress. I would fully understand if teaches who have unpaid responsibilities for curriculum areas suddenly decide they don’t want this level of responsibility anymore. Teachers are paid to teach and lead learning in their classrooms, if they volunteer to lead a subject then they should be supported and applauded for this, not held under a microscope during a deep dive as some elements of the Ofsted training has left me with the impression they will be under. I worry that SEND issues has not been properly thought through and inspectors I have spoken to who have completed inspections already tell me 2 deep dives a day is utterly unmanageable.
A question was raised at the North East training about whether gaining Outstanding was unachievable, the answer was the regional HMI had not seen any outstanding schools yet. I agree with raising the bar for outstanding, I agree that outstanding schools should be back in routine inspections, I do not agree that to be judged Outstanding the transition leeway cannot apply to them. So it is indeed unachievable, though I am sure they will by now have found they need to at least be seen to judge some schools at this level – I can but hope.
I always wanted to be part of a system that would be a force for good, Ofsted is no longer that in my eyes. It is now flawed.
Fellow leaders, who complete Ofsted work should, in my humble opinion, really reflect on whether they are being the change they want to see in schools. Since resigning in December, I have actually worked more closely with schools in a supportive way to examine their curriculums and improve teaching and learning. Through National Leader work in this area I have been able to see improvements in schools through honest and open dialogues with my peers who are morally driven to provide the very best for their pupils. This I see as a force for improvement. Ofsted in its current form is not.
Dame Nicola Stephenson DBE (March 2020)