The Big Listen, but will they?

The Big Listen, but will they?

There was an interesting, not too surprising, reaction to Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’ when it was discussed at a session I ran with headteachers and deputies this week. Despite all the messages from Sir Martyn Oliver, the years of bad experiences, anecdotal tales of rude inspectors, and underlying seething pressure that leaders were obviously experiencing came to the fore, and it turned into a kind of group therapy session.

This was important for a number of colleagues who needed to share, but it was also not the feeling of the whole group. A few people actually said that whilst they definitely felt the pressure and believed strongly that the inspectorate needed reform, their own recent experiences of the process had been firm but fair. And that seems to be one of the main issues: inconsistency between inspectors, despite what Ofsted would say to the contrary.

I work with schools across the country, and here is a snapshot of those schools that have been inspected in the last couple of months:

  • Three schools felt the process was rigorous but that they were listened to, and the inspector/s took the context of the school into account, gave the headteacher a choice about which subjects were the deep dives and,. although it was tough, the outcome was fair and inspectors had listened to those in the school and responded reasonably. The outcome was a true reflection of the school overall.
  • One school felt the lead inspector went overboard with the ‘Are you sure you are OK?’ throughout the two days and “half expected her to make the staff a cake and cups of tea!” However, the outcome was a fair reflection of the school and gave them clear points to improve further.
  • Two had inspectors who were rude (in one instance the ‘palm up’ towards someone’s face to indicate he had heard enough*; in another, an inspector being abrupt with staff and getting cross, for example, when exercise books were not yet available for scrutiny, despite the school having explained the children were still using them in lessons at that point as had, they thought, been explained in the phone call.)

So, although this is far from being a statistically representative sample, it does echo the feedback from the group of leaders I met with earlier this week and general feedback from other schools on my travels. I know the bad experiences get amplified, and I know people are looking for reasons to criticise the process, especially in the light of the recent Parliamentary report and, of course, the tragedy of Ruth Perry’s death.

Some headteachers said there was no point in responding to ‘The Big Listen’ because Ofsted would carry on regardless of the responses. After all, they have a duty to inspect schools and will carry on anyway, with the same bad inspectors still in post doing the same bad things and with little recourse from schools to hold them to account. If a school does complain about the inspection and it is upheld, ultimately, do they want to be re-inspected and go through it all again?
However, with the obvious depth of feeling out there, I’m encouraging people to respond to the consultation. If people don’t use this opportunity and the number of responses is low, then this gives Ofsted the argument that the problems have been magnified.

So we need to make sure there is a resounding response and use this opportunity to let Ofsted know the views that are out there.

Spread the word.
(And I’m saying this as a former inspector and former school leader. I’ve had a foot in both camps, and I know which I’m proud to own up to.)

Having heard of a couple of recent examples of rude inspectors raising their hand towards someone, palm outwards, to indicate that they should stop talking, I’m suggesting a coordinated response.

If this happens, can there be a national agreement from school leaders that the response is to high-five them and excitedly say, “So it’s all Good or Outstanding then, yeah?” Who’s with me?

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