Young women with her hands on her head looking stressed.

A guest blog by a headteacher who wishes to remain anonymous.

As a school leader I read lots of tweets and talk to lots of colleagues about the immense stress we are under whilst waiting for Wednesday lunchtime when your school is in the OFSTED window. Some of the tweets are very amusing and you can relate to them and have a chuckle and it is true that you can hear a collective sigh of relief run through my school at around 2pm on a Wednesday when we all realise we are safe for another week. However, the reality for many of us is very worrying.

I have been a Head Teacher for 12 years, I am no ‘inspection virgin’ and I can hold my own in a professional dialogue about my school and our context. I haven’t always felt this absolute dread at the thought of anyone coming in to judge our learning – in fact I used to look forward to it as an opportunity to show what we are doing and to learn some improvement strategies. Sadly, I am not even sure that I can pinpoint the exact moment this started to change for myself and colleague heads. The latest OFSTED framework, when it was published, was my favourite (I realise how sad it is to admit that you have a favourite framework!). I have always been enormously proud of the fact that we did not narrow our curriculum, that we offered a broad and balanced diet for all our children, even our year 6 pupils. We have always been focused on health and well-being, we run forest schools on site 3-4 times a week, we have a wonderful school dog, and ELSA room that is used every day for a wide range of children. We achieved a good inspection 5 years ago and until recently I honestly believed that our school is better now than it was then.


The region where I work has just been named as the lowest achieving local authority in the country for GCSEs and A-Levels; I suspect our Key Stage 2 results are about to say the same thing. As a school leader I know that this is not good enough and something needs to change. However, we also have the highest number of SEND pupils per LA, yet we have the lowest specialist provision. We have huge numbers of children in mainstream schools that are being failed though a lack of resources. Everyone I know who works in education in this area is working to capacity – we can do no more. However, the inspections that have taken place in this authority in recent weeks in ‘good’ schools have been described as brutal by staff and governors that were involved. It seems that OFSTED would like us all to teach to a preferred phonic scheme with a preferred teaching style and every curriculum subject should be taught through a ‘bought in’ scheme, where your poor subject leaders (who probably get half a day a term if they are lucky) are expected to know what the progression and skills look like from age 4 to 11. In all of the negative feedback that heads have shared with me, the most disheartening thing is that there was no professional dialogue – staff were stopped in their tracks when talking about their provision. There were no opportunities to provide more evidence on the second day of the inspection – decisions were made very quickly and the inspectors were ‘not for turning’. This is very different to both inspections I have undergone as a leader – one that judged us as RI and the second one as good. I am worried this new ‘brutal’ system is the new inspection framework and in a world where Head Teachers are not staying in post beyond 5 years, and teacher recruitment is at an all-time low, how are we ever going to make a difference in children’s lives?

For some time I have known the system is broken – yet often speak about the joys of school leadership – and so now I feel like a hypocrite! But it has to be said and to a wider audience than our Chair of Governors when we are having a moment. My blood pressure is currently sitting at 160/106 and my GP has told me to relax! I am of course in school, the time is 11:15 and I am holding my breath!

Image by Freepik