Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner, shares stories from his early teaching career at Graduation Day.

We were honoured to have Sir David Carter attend the University of Buckingham’s Graduation Ceremony last week and, for those who were unable to attend, he has been kind enough to allow us to share an inspirational speech.

Good afternoon distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and a special warm welcome to those of here to celebrate your academic success.  It is a pleasure to attend this special occasion and to be able to share in your celebrations today. I also want to thank the University for inviting me to share this experience with you.

I was born in 1959 in Cardiff in South Wales. My mum was a Human Resources professional, and my Dad was a musician. I enjoyed school, but even more so when I knew I had music or sport to look forward to that day.

I was the first person from my family to go to university. I graduated from Royal Holloway College, University of London in 1982 and, having decided that I wanted to train as a music teacher, successfully applied to undertake my teacher training at the Institute of Education in London and started in September 1982.

The course was excellent and was a fantastic preparation for teaching music in a secondary school. I had two very different schools allocated to me for my teaching placements and I left to start my career knowing that I had a rich supply of skills, ideas and resources to call upon. In spite of enjoying the course very much, it was not all straightforward. As a young man and inexperienced teacher, like many others before me, I made mistakes. I remember leaving a bag full of recorders on the number 46 bus to Camden and I remember trying to persuade a very street-wise group of 14 year old girls in Hackney that they really did want to sing Folk songs about life as a blacksmith in Ireland. The memory of both incidents continues to linger in my mind!

After I had been teaching for three years, I studied for a Masters degree in Music Education, which I completed in 1988. This was my first serious higher degree learning experience and it was a challenge and a stretch completing it part time but was a reminder that has stayed with me for 30 years of the value of continuing to take responsibility for my own professional development. The two years that I studied for my MA, the regular Monday evening sessions and journeys into central London became my thinking time, and the experience underpinned so much of what I went on to do.

30 years after that first experience, I talk to you this afternoon as the National Schools Commissioner for England. This for me is the job my training and my career has been preparing me for. After my early experiences as a music teacher, I became a head teacher, a CEO over 12 academies in Bristol, the first Regional Schools Commissioner for the South West and in January this year, was appointed to become the National Schools commissioner.

All of the experiences I have enjoyed throughout my career have helped to inform my thinking about what great schools could be like. My role today is to challenge our schools across the country to be not just the best they can be, but to help others who still have a journey to make. Collaboration is the oxygen of improvement in the public sector. In my view, education is the most important of the public sector industries, as it enables us to develop a generation of young adults who are well educated, compassionate, understanding of difference and willing to put the needs of the most vulnerable at the heart of every decision they make.

Preparing for the graduation has enabled me to go back in time and reflect on the lessons that I have learned that might be worth describing today.

When I was in my early 20’s, trying to anticipate the challenges of the future, I realised that reflection was not a skill that came easily to me. But if there was one thing I wish someone had been able to tell my younger self all those years ago, it would have been this:

(that) You will learn more from the things that you get wrong and agonise over, than you will from the things that you get right and celebrate.

In my early days in teaching, I spent too long searching for perfection. The perfect lesson, delivered to perfectly behaved children, by a perfectly brilliant teacher – And life is simply not like that.

This afternoon is a special event for all of you, and I applaud and congratulate you on your determination and your quality which have combined to bring you your success. You should also take a moment to thank your family and friends for being there for you when the journey is bumpy as it will be at times in the future.

As you move on to the next stage of your life, make sure you keep a small space in your busy  schedule to remain connected with the people who taught you, as well as those who you have learned alongside. I still get genuinely excited when a former student I have taught tracks me down on Twitter, and tells me what they have done. I look at their photograph and see the 14 year old I remember hidden inside the face of the 40 year old looking back at me. I know then that I played a part in their development, in the same way that your teachers, colleagues, family and friends will have done with you.

For those of you already and aspiring to senior leadership roles in our school system I both thank and congratulate you. There is no greater contribution you could make than to lead your schools and their communities so that the potential of young people can be developed and delivered. My happiest memories are of the years I lead my schools and Multi Academy Trust and if I learned one thing that I would share today it is this. Never forget how much influence you have. You may have 150 conversations on any given day but the people you talk to only have one with you and you need to make it count. Encourage them, support them, congratulate them, ask them about their families but above all else be an empathetic leader. Through empathy comes authenticity and through authenticity comes followship.

It has been a delight to share this most important afternoon with you. Please accept my sincere congratulations and best wishes for the next stage of your career and carry on being lifelong learners.

Featured in Prep School Magazine this term: What makes a good head?

Chris Parsons, Deputy Head (Academic) at Norwich Lower School and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Buckingham School of Education, ponders the question of what makes a good headteacher.

What makes a Head a good one? Is it primarily what they are, or what they do…?

This is not a new question in the domain of leadership theory, so can we simply look to the examples set by iconic Heads of the past? Could they help us navigate our current school landscape?

When we do gaze back at the past, we are struck by so many apparent contrasts with the present. With the incessant rise of accountability demands, compliance measures and ever-shifting marketing pressures, many Prep School Heads could be forgiven for rarely surfacing from the paperwork and peripheral aspects of a job which never seems to be fully complete.

Still, what does make a good Head in the present day? Is there anything which distinguishes them from an efficiently multitasking manager? Whether in the past or the present, the answer must surely lie in what differentiates any real leader from an appointed administrator: In simple terms, the good Head will provide for their school a clear direction of travel, and they will educe from their staff the discretionary effort required to go the extra mile when times demand it.

A vision is key then, of where a school aspires to go, and of what it aspires to be. Real leaders realise that they can’t simply bury their heads in a tidy pile of administrative box-ticking and assume that providence will steer their ship to the promised land. Good leaders also realise that they can’t compel any more than competent functioning from their colleagues, and competence in itself will never be enough to ensure that a Prep School thrives and delivers a schooling worthy of the trust placed in it.

For schools such as ours to truly succeed, it requires a staff body joined in common enterprise, with commitment levels which can only be freely given. How do existing successful heads go about achieving these tasks? The answer, as you might expect, involves no shiny clean silver bullet. Rather, it involves myriad ongoing and adaptable traits, skills and behaviours. In other words, it involves an inseparable bond between what Heads are and what they do.

“The best Heads have a sound moral compass and are able to apply this to all of their decision making,” says Charlie Minogue, the Headmaster of Moor Park School in Ludlow. He believes that good Heads have core values which they share clearly, and stick to consistently. “Ideally, staff should know what you would think in various circumstances so that they can make decisions in your absence and this is achieved through good communication and consistency of action.”

A similar message comes from Tania Botting, the Headmistress of Greenfield School in Woking, and the Vice Chairman of IAPS. She agrees that a Head’s vision must genuinely flow from the ethos and values of the school, and that, whilst a good Head will use a variety of leadership styles to match the situation, “…most importantly they need to be authentic and consistent.”

Clearly, people accepting positions of headship need to be a good fit for their school and governing body. However, amongst all the values and decisions needing to be made, Tania sees a very simple underlying principle which should unite all Heads: “Every decision I make is in the best interests of the children.”

Being authentic in expressing values, with a key focus on the child, also comes through strongly from Siobhan McGrath, the Principle of Southbank International School in Kensington. For her, Heads should be “…completely student centred – everything they do should be for students.”

It’s clear that in communicating through everything that they do a strong message about values, ethos and vision, a good head ably fulfils the need for a leader to provide direction. Through acting authentically though, they also take a key first step in engaging the discretionary effort and support of their colleagues. What else can help to accomplish this? A good head “builds excellent relationships with everyone they work with;” according to Siobhan. They are able to coach others successfully, they run schools centred around professional development, and of vital importance to her, they have compassion.

Tania Botting agrees that a Head needs to be a “people person” – approachable, sensitive, empathic and with a good sense of humour – and Charlie Minogue highlights the importance of listening skills.

These ‘soft skill’ attributes – when combined with authenticity – not only help with building everyday good-will and wellbeing amongst staff. It seems that they can also help in the conduct of ‘hard conversations’, both in ensuring that messages are properly communicated, and in enabling people to move-on and feel fairly treated when the outcome is non-negotiable.

Amongst the various other attributes identified by the above school leaders, one of the clearest to come through is that – despite the need for consistent and authentic action – the ability to constantly and flexibly adapt to a changing situation is essential.

As Tania Botting explains, “The reason that the role of Headship is so challenging is due to the complexity and frequency and lack of structure to the day – unexpected events happen on a daily basis, and while not all of these are necessarily negative events, they require quick thinking and adaptability.”

“You literally have to adjust your behaviours from one minute to the next,” says Siobhan McGrath. “You have to be able to juggle multiple tasks with different people requiring different things from you.  This is the case every day, all week, every week.  It never, ever lets up.”

So, we can’t ever separate what a good Head is from what they do. They can’t merely be a virtuous presence, but neither can they just act-out a book of best advice, and walking the line between the best intersection of the two clearly demands constant learning and adaptation.

Nevertheless, unless it all starts to look too much again, let’s hear Charlie Minogue refrain one clearly agreed-upon point: “The needs of the children come first.”

 

Guiding the Sage back to the Stage – Chris Parsons, ‎Deputy Head (Academic) at Norwich Lower School examines what might be lost if teachers simply get out of the way and ‘facilitate’ learning.

 

Let’s talk about ‘The Teacher’. What exactly is the point of them…?

“To teach!” some might hotly (or facetiously) retort.

“To help learners learn!” some might worthily respond…

The thing is, nothing else in nature or technology can learn like a human being. To be able to derive abstract ideas from spoken words and combine them in a single moment with movements, sensations and emotions… to be able to associate them with the past and to imagine possible futures…

It’s simply not surprising that there’s a lot of debate over exactly what teachers could best be doing in the classroom.

Humans have a significant learning advantage over other animals; we can just tell each other stuff which prompts us to picture, reflect and remember. This should surely be great news for education, and it’s no surprise that being told stuff, by a ‘Sage on the Stage’, has historically been a big part of schooling once children are able to speak, sit still and think abstractly. We simply aren’t limited to our own direct experience.

But…there is little doubt that some things can only be learned through experience (the pattern of our mother’s face, the throwing of a ball, the meaning of the word ‘hot’) and truths which we’ve actively sought-out and discovered for ourselves, can form some of our strongest, richest, most formative memories.

There’s also little doubt that much of the information sprayed at people during lecturing bounces off. Even if it all makes logical sense in the moment, streaming info is too fast to fully integrate into memory, and our attempts to reflect about ideas will lead us to miss other things. Add in also the growing belief that real learning must be personally relevant and bespoke, and it’s no great surprise that we’ve switched to seeing ‘The Guide on the Side’ as the most desirable model for a teacher.

Of course, most teachers are pragmatists. Most of us admit to doing a fair bit of both telling and facilitating, but a dominant meme seems to pervade the backs of many minds: If only education was perfect, then all learning would be self-constructed by the learner along their chosen path. The teacher would be an expert in the needs of the child and the art of motivating, and ideally just be there to ‘facilitate’ learners in pulling-down whatever knowledge was most relevant to them. That’s the truly ‘child-centred’ thing to do, right?

Well, I suppose so. I’m actually wary of being too ‘child-centred’. What can popularly seem to be in the interests of a child, might not be in the best interests of their future adult-self. So I guess I’m more ‘future-adult-centred’ when it comes to educational philosophy, but that doesn’t scan very well.

More fundamentally, I think reducing The Sage on the Stage model simply to the notion of ‘lecturing’ misses some pretty powerful things about the impact of The Sage. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t about technique – I’m not simply diving down the line of how a skilled teacher can lead from the front whilst maximising engagement and retention through interactive whole class explicit instruction. That is certainly true, and it genuinely isn’t lecturing, but some would have it that it’s still a bit distasteful to use as our primary teaching technique; a way of intensively battery-farming learning which is mostly for the convenience of the teacher, they might argue.

No, the big news for me is that there are three things that a real Sage can do, which neither a Guide on the Side, nor a computerised tutor can:

Firstly, they can command instinctive attention.

I’m not talking about short-term ‘engagement’ here, because Angry Birds can do that. Rather, we have evolved to seek-out and follow a human guru/leader/wise one/figurehead – whatever. It doesn’t matter how scientific we get, all of us have the instinct to attend to, admire, respect and look-up to someone. It doesn’t even matter if we dryly view each person as equally flawed and simply the product of genetic and social circumstances beyond them – we still like to indulge in a bit of hero-worship.

This is a highly adaptive survival trait in human infants, so – like it or not – the examples we set and the things we tell kids when we stand in front of them can be disproportionately powerful in their forming minds. As adolescence kicks-in, the attraction to role-models and leaders will shift from parents and super-heroes to peers and cultural pin-ups, but the right kind of teacher can still offer a strangely attractive beacon of hope, inspiration and certitude.

Secondly, they can knit a special kind of learning.

Despite the wonders of technology, we actually need ‘live’, in-situ, teachers who have superior knowledge and can see further in a subject area than their tutees. We need people who can create a focal point outside their pupils’ experience, actively making links and narratives which connect the dots in that particular classroom of learners, and then adaptively reconstructing these narratives in subtly different ways to match the evolving understanding and experience of the individuals.

If pupils give answers which aren’t quite correct, or they state related but not directly relevant knowledge, or they ask unexpected questions which spring out of discussions, a great teacher won’t simply always resort to saying “That’s incorrect – but good effort!”, or “I’m sorry – now’s not the time…”, or “Hmm… What do the rest of the group think?” or “I don’t know…but hey! Why don’t you find out…?” In classic educational moments, teachers will identify exactly whereabouts these unexpected ingredients sit relative to what they want pupils to know. They will be able to briefly, deftly sketch-out an extension to the conceptual canvas which helps create a greater understanding in all the pupils there. In essence they will take the ingredients before them and knead them into an educational dough mixture that gives the most digestible, nutritious mix.

Finally, they teleport us into worlds we never imagined, and inspire us to make them our own.

Sages parachute pupils into places they would never have likely thought of going without them, and possibly couldn’t have reached. This is how they can be most powerful. If teachers just take a supporting role in guiding children wherever they seem most inclined to go, then children will learn possibly quite a lot about really very little. The younger we are, the less we realise what we’re missing-out on. The good guide will of course suggest things, and might be quite good at modelling an interest in learning in general, but an interest in learning, like curiosity, is something which tends to be domain specific; there are no ‘generally curious’ people out there – not if our brain is functioning in the way it should.

A coaching teacher who says “Hey, I don’t know everything either – we’re all learners together! Isn’t learning great!” might have some limited impact with inspiring children to take an interest in learning something, but, I believe, little more. What REALLY turns-on the fires of curiosity and interest is witnessing a genuine passion in a subject enthusiast, and starting to experience what they experience. The very best teachers communicate to learners just what it is in the essence of a topic which makes some people fanatics about this kind of thing. This is the real value in having subject specialists with experience of throwing themselves deeply into learning at degree level. Even if they didn’t study the exact topic or subject at hand, they hopefully have experienced what it is like to become a bit obsessive about an academic area, and can channel that fire in their exposition of other subjects.

Of course, not every teacher can be a genuine enthusiast about each area that they teach, but they can nevertheless endeavour to find a way into the heart of what it is that can make any area of study fascinating, even if just on the right day, from the right perspective, and channel that.

Can we all become The Sage? In the right moment, without a permissive culture, yes. Indeed, I would say that – provided we aren’t compelled to stick with a script nor actively discouraged from occasionally ‘going off on one’, we probably will all naturally do it quite often when placed in an actual teaching position. But what we really mustn’t do is to turn The Sage into a thing of mythology, through turning teachers into little more than sympathetic companions who know a lot about organising learning experiences, but leave all the content stuff to Google.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s put our hands together for…‘The Sage’…!”

Attempting to solve the current recruitment crisis with teachers from abroad helps no one Professor Geraint Jones talks to The Telegraph

 

My heart sank when I read about the Government’s ‘secret plan’ to spend £300,000 on recruiting Maths and Physics teachers from Poland and the Czech Republic in an attempt to plug a shortage in schools.  Whilst I understand why such a plan is in place, it smacks of a last-ditch effort to solve the teacher recruitment crisis in these subjects.  Sadly, it is also evidence that the initiatives over the last twenty years to recruit more mathematicians and physicists into teaching have not worked.

‘Golden hello’ payments of up to £20,000 to tempt maths and physics graduates into teaching have not produced the numbers needed. Neither has Teach First – a programme to attract top graduates into teaching and fast-track them to leadership jobs in schools.  Indeed, some might say that the latter has been a spectacularly expensive initiative, when you consider that 57 percent of teachers recruited through the scheme drop out of teaching within three years. What other publicly funded programme would still be receiving taxpayers’ money with such shocking attrition rates?

But the bigger question here, is why is it that neither money nor the promise of promotion is bringing more  graduates into the profession, let alone hanging on to them once they are in?

The answer is pretty simple: teaching is tough!  No longer is it the envy of other professions; the supposed 3pm finishes are now known to be myth, and the longer holidays far from compensate from the thought of managing the challenging behaviour in some schools. Most people now admit that they “couldn’t be a teacher these days”.  The government’s recent plan, to target teachers from non-English speaking countries, will also fail, because most teachers from Poland or the Czech Republic will not cut it in our classrooms.

The harsh reality is that teachers from non-English speaking countries often struggle to teach in mainstream British schools.  Many Eastern European teachers, for example, rely on an instructive teaching style and demand utter compliance from their pupils.  This rigidity of approach comes a cropper when boredom in the classroom sets in and children start to ‘test’ the teacher’s skill at managing behaviour.  This is when the language barrier becomes a particular difficulty for a foreign teacher to overcome, as more challenging pupils seize on any perceived weaknesses in their teachers.  Mispronunciation of words, grammatical errors, slower expression or reaction can often be a catalyst for children to scratch at a teacher further, often resulting in a lesson which spirals out of control.

That’s not to say that many teachers from non-English speaking countries cannot improve their craft and succeed in British schools.  Some will, but most will not.  Above all else, including money and promotion, teachers just want to be able to teach.  If they cannot do this effectively, for whatever reason, they are more likely to leave.  The government know this, but such is the level of the recruitment crisis in Maths and Physics, that any ‘short-term’ fix will obviously do for now.

But, this sticking-plaster ‘solution’ should be a wake-up call for the entire education sector.  It’s not just for the government to mend leaking taps in Maths and Physics, only for others to spring open in Languages and ICT.  It’s for the entire education sector to come together to fix the boiler in our teacher recruitment crisis, and schools and Multi Academy Trusts should take some ownership of this issue.

Multi Academy Trusts should work far closer with universities and offer teaching experience as part of undergraduate courses, especially in shortage subjects.  This will sow the teaching seed far earlier in undergraduates’ minds, as well as help schools to get their foot in the door to tempt more students into teaching.

More schools should also work closer with educational organisations with expertise in recruitment.  Premier Pathways, an education organisation with roots in teacher recruitment, is leading the way in this area, and is achieving success in recruiting graduate teaching assistants into schools for a year before they become qualified teachers.  Much can also be learnt from the independent school sector in how they attract and retain graduates and career changers into their schools.  Many independent schools have a successful tradition of ‘growing their own’ teachers, and are savvy and highly pro-active in recruiting high calibre graduates directly into their schools.

Heads should think far in advance of their staffing needs, so that they are not reactively hiring when a hole suddenly appears in their staffing structure.  Good head teachers do this – they seek talent often before a teaching position is available, and many will create assistant teacher positions and train them up to teach, well before the inevitable gap appears in their Maths or Physics departments.  Expensive? Yes! But not as expensive as a class with no teacher.

Stemming the tide of teachers leaving the profession must also play a part in helping slow the recruitment crisis.  Fewer teachers will leave the profession if they are more skilled in managing classroom behaviour, which should be far more of a focus during teacher training.

But we are not at the end of the road just yet, as I believe there is still work that can be done to increase the number of home-grown maths and physics teachers.  The solution though will require head teachers to be more innovative and pro-active in their recruitment, and stop expecting the government to solve the crisis.

10 minutes with Dame Alison Peacock, a Buckingham Ed video short

 

When Dame Alison Peacock agreed to speak at our PGCE February residential we knew our trainees were in for a treat.  Now in place as Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, Dame Alison’s list of achievements within education is extensive. She has been acknowledged by Debrett’s as one of the ‘500 most influential people in Britain’, was awarded a DBE for services to education in 2014 and as a Head took a school from ‘Special Measures’ to ‘Outstanding’ in less than three years. We asked Jonathan Melia, a PGCE trainee from Brighton College, to find out more……….

Amanda Spielman is wrong – Ofsted should never be seen as a ‘force for improvement’ Professor Geraint Jones tells The Telegraph where Ofsted is going wrong

 

In her first interview as chief inspector of England’s schools, Amanda Spielman said she will start by examining the very purpose of Ofsted. Whilst the answer to her quandary is relatively straightforward – Ofsted’s role is to report without fear or favour directly to Parliament on the quality of schools in England – it is a welcome signal that Spielman may want to revert Ofsted back to its reporting roots and away from what it has become under Wilshaw, the country’s educational authority.

I fear that my hopes may prove to be short-lived though, as she ends the interview by saying she wants Ofsted to be seen by everyone “as a force for improvement”. No, no, no! That’s not Ofsted’s responsibility! It is for the Department for Education and the country’s head teachers to improve standards in schools. Ofsted’s job, and that of the inspectors, is to inspect, and then report on how well they are doing it.

Once Gove was removed from the Department and replaced by the questionably effective Nicky Morgan in 2014 it took far less than her two-year tenure for Sir Michael Wilshaw and his Ofsted army to capture the education sector – and hold it captive. Ofsted is now the force, it is THE authority and very little happens without its approval. But this is exactly what Spielman should want to change, because the sector is a quibbling wreck.

Many a good head teacher has been on the end of Ofsted’s axe-wielding antics, and many a decent school has suffered the post-inspection trauma and tribulations of a less than adequate Ofsted-branding. The result is a prison-like sector which has become submissively supplicant to Ofsted’s whims and caprice. Despite the rise of academisation and free schools with the supposed ‘power to innovate’, schools have never before felt so constrained. The result is the mass-production of robot-schools rolling off the Ofsted conveyor belt – all saying the same things, all doing the same things, in fear of daring to be different.

Whilst, from the outside, Wilshaw leaves a legacy of more so-called ‘Good’ schools than ever before, just like a statue, the closer you get to Ofsted, the more obvious the cracks. For example, the Education Policy Institute’s recent research highlights that nearly a half of declining primary schools and a third of declining secondaries in England have actually improved their Ofsted ratings, in spite of the decline in academic progress made by pupils. It begs the question – are Wilshaw’s ‘Good’ schools really that good, or are they simply ticking the right boxes in order to survive? Perhaps it is high time for the Office for Standards in Education to be inspected themselves?

Langley Hall Primary School, a free school in Slough, Berkshire is pushing for its Ofsted inspection report to be quashed in the High Court, because of allegedly glaring mistakes made by inspectors. This is just one of 13 judicial reviews faced by the inspectorate in the last 3 years alone! As the school’s former Chair of Governors Sir Christopher Ball warns “If it can happen to us, it can happen to any school. Ofsted needs to get its house in order.” And therein lies Spielman’s first task as Chief Inspector.

I have believed for some time that Ofsted is failing England’s education system, because the truth is that too many of its inspectors are not experts. Many of them have not been head teachers, whilst some have never even led a department within a school. Too many inspectors are inexperienced and ill-equipped to make accurate judgements on the quality of schools. And yet, whole school communities and livelihoods are in the hands of people who last taught a lesson decades ago and have no idea what it takes to lead a school. How do I know this? Because, as an Ofsted Inspector myself, I worked with many of them, until I called time on the job.

As so many inspectors lack real school leadership experience, one would assume that the training they receive with Ofsted would address this. Unfortunately, it does not. I started training as an inspector whilst I was a deputy head in a secondary school, and what I saw beggared belief. In one observation of a lesson with fellow Ofsted trainees, a third of the room judged it as ‘outstanding’, a third judged the same lesson ‘inadequate’ and the remaining third did not know.

The response from the trainers was that these discrepancies were to be expected in inspection because of our different experiences and backgrounds in education. By the end of the training, there were still these jarring differences in trainees’ judgements, yet the significant majority still passed the course and advanced to the top of education’s food chain. I felt that Ofsted had no interest in employing experts in teaching or school leadership, it just wanted people who could justify their judgements with jargon.

I became a head teacher and kept my hand in with Ofsted. Headship certainly made me a better inspector, because I had an improved understanding and empathy with the range of complex challenges facing heads and teachers. But many inspectors with whom I have worked were not able to do this, because they simply did not have the experience.

The school inspection system is riddled with inadequacy. Schools are at the mercy of the quality of the inspectors who come to their school rather than the quality of the inspection system.

I finally pulled the plug on my time as an inspector after one of Ofsted’s annual refresher training courses. There we were, in front of the so-called beacons of teaching and learning, subjected to over 200 PowerPoint slides. We all know that the average concentration span is a maximum 20 minutes on one activity, yet Ofsted thought it best practice to talk non-stop to us for seven hours! That was it for me.

Ofsted’s job is to look at schools and report on how well they are doing. Before it can effectively do that, it must surely ensure that its inspectors are capable of accurately performing the task. If Spielman is to ‘get her house in order’ her first task must be a quick and decisive cull of inspectors who are not up to the job, and replace them with experts in education and school leadership.

To make this possible, I think every head teacher of an outstanding school in England should have to become an Ofsted inspector and contribute to at least 6 inspections a year. This would serve two main purposes: firstly, Ofsted would become a highly-respected organisation of experts, able to accurately report on school standards; secondly it allows for the best school leaders to help the wider education sector. With great inspectors, more schools would see inspection as a positive experience and more schools would improve. The truth about the education sector is, that the significant majority of head teachers and teachers want to get better at what they do, and they welcome authentic feedback from those in the know on how to do it.

I would certainly support an inspectorate which genuinely aimed for expertise in its work, and I would be one of the first knocking on its door asking to be involved again. So, I believe, would countless others with a track record of success in leading schools.

Published in The Telegraph 13th January 2017

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