Driven to despair by Ofsted inspections | Letters

Headteacher Rachel Hornsey deplores the shifting goalposts of school inspections. Plus letters from Dr Chris Pyle, Yvonne Williams and Prof Nick Megoran

Ofsted is forcing talented leaders and their teams into chronic stress (‘I can’t go through it again’: heads quit over ‘brutal’ Ofsted inspections, 27 November). As a headteacher, my vision must be maintained amid shifting goalposts. Prior to 2019, a school’s raw attainment data was enough to make or break an inspection grade. Since the new framework, it is whether your planned curriculum matches exactly what is in the books that is the deciding factor. And there has been a pandemic in between.

Meanwhile, a crisis in children’s services adds more responsibilities. Due to a 60% increase in referrals to the Oxfordshire multi-agency safeguarding hub and its lack of resources, work with vulnerable families has now fallen to schools. There are 25 full-time vacancies for health visitors in Oxfordshire. Since the pandemic, there have been no child development checks at year 1 and year 3 in our area. Children are arriving at school with a multitude of problems, and we are the first professionals to identify these.

I am working hard to make sure my school is well prepared for Ofsted. The inspection begins with a 90-minute phone call, where I will need to set the tone. But I don’t know if this will come this week, this month, or even this year. The inspection process is inadequate as a method to improve educational outcomes for our children.
Rachel Hornsey
Headteacher, Sutton Courtenay C of E primary school

• I also have recent experience of the inspectors’ frantic two-day hit. Schools value trust, challenge and support. “Move fast and break things” is a less commendable approach. The disconnect between schools and the inspectorate is most glaring with regard to the pandemic. Ofsted has made the bizarre decision to exclude all specific references to the pandemic from many recent reports.

The single cut-and-paste phrase that it had been “taken into account” was the best it could do for my school. In the period of greatest educational disruption since 1945, this makes it appear tone deaf or irrelevant. Schools are in the business of building, not breaking. We will keep on weaving straw into gold.
Dr Chris Pyle
Head, Lancaster Royal grammar school

• Inspection pressure is nothing new, nor are its dysfunctional consequences. But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can have rigour without disrespect, and improvement without causing schools to implode.

The process works best when informed specialists provide accurate judgments supported by robust evidence. In my experience, the best inspectors reported strengths as well as weaknesses. They held informed professional evaluative conversations with teachers and leaders.

We were far more likely to act on their advice and the school was all the better for it. It’s amazing what benefits can be derived from insightful two-way professional dialogue.
Yvonne Williams
Ryde, Isle of Wight

• Ofsted inspections test only one thing: how savvy schools are at passing Ofsted inspections. They do not test how good schools are at the important things such as teaching children to think, care, understand, play well, act wisely, make a difference and know that they are loved and valued. As your harrowing article indicates, Ofsted is one of the worst manifestations of the hideous audit culture that so deforms the UK. Let’s abolish Ofsted and trust our teachers to do what they are most committed to: teaching our children well.
Prof Nick Megoran
Newcastle University

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