Could Ofsted be a positive driver for learning in our schools? I wonder…

You I have had an itch for a while. You know, that sort of itch that you just have to scratch, even in public!

This is the tweet from Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director, that prompted my public display.


As, so often, Sean was responding to the assertion that, the pressure that schools and teachers find themselves under, is essentially Ofsted’s fault.  This is not just an assertion for many, many edu tweeps, but is rife across the profession – the very idea of an impending inspection acts as a straitjacket for the majority of schools – myths or no myths. It is fact. 

It is something I have heard him and Sir Michael Wilshaw say on many occasions. So I looked at Ofsted’s home page on GOV.UK ; hence my response:

Screenshot_24_04_2016__12_48So, not one mention of parents in Ofsted’s stated: ‘What we do’, ‘Who we are’, ‘Our responsibilities’ or ‘Our priorities’. So this led me to wonder… Perhaps this is the key! So prodded a little further:

Screenshot_24_04_2016__12_50Perhaps this shift has fundamentally changed Ofsted’s relationship with schools.

I wonder what the impact might be of changing the headings to: ‘What we do that benefits children’, ‘Who we are and how we have already positively impacted on children’s lives’ etc., etc.

Perhaps the profession now only sees Ofsted as doing the Government’s bidding – or worse: sees them as one in the same.

So, I wonder… I wonder how things could be different…

I wonder what the difference might be if Ofsted included a reference to parents, and for parents, in every section on their home page.


I wonder what difference it would make if the Ofsted framework was really aimed at informing parents about the quality of education in their child’s school. What if, instead of public humiliation for some parents and their schools, these reports were a non-pejorative reflection of, “The School’s strengths as Ofsted sees them” , “Next steps as Ofsted sees them”. Folk will find better wording, but you get the idea.

What if there was no public grading. What if, as happens in the best schools, grading and aggregation was a back office metric for Ofsted, RSCs, LAs and the Government.  What if, as a result, Ofsted Inspectors were trusted and freed from the contortion of formulaic reporting script, where the restrictive word count often means the best practice examples, that should be included, are left out because the word count has expired. I know that Ofsted has done much to try to improve this, but essentially, it remains.

So, I wonder… I wonder how things could be different…

I wonder what the difference might be if Ofsted removed all grading from reports and only summarised the school’s strengths and next steps.


We know that Ofsted is a significant driver of what happens, so I wonder what they could do to drive behaviours that are the antithesis of the mocksteds and the paucity of curriculum experience that is commonplace, for staff and pupils, in many of our schools at the moment.  

Again, with the focus on parents in mind, I floated an idea on Twitter yesterday evening: What if  Ofsted reported on how the school keeps parents informed about their child’s progress. One can immediately see what behaviours that might result in. Perhaps this would see the end of meaningless reports and repetitive statement banks and would encourage the sort of practice seen in schools like The Wroxham School, where children contribute to the writing of their own school reports and  lead learning review meetings in the presence of the headteacher, their class teacher and crucially, their parents.

This is just one idea – there will be many others.

So, I wonder… I wonder how things could be different…

I wonder what the difference might be if one of the main areas for inspection was how the school keeps parents informed about their child’s progress.


I guess Ofsted might shout, ‘Parent View!’ as their parent focused initiative. As a headteacher, I hated the idea of Parent View, and never advertised its existence to my parents. If parents had a problem with the school, I wanted them to tell me!!! I wanted to know, so I could do something about it.  Similarly, if they had good things to say about the school, tell me, tell the governors, tell the community!!!

The current ‘Parent View’ is a snapshot view, with no opportunity for dialogue and is ultimately reactive rather than proactive. What use is it to parents really? And, how many parents actually use it?

I wonder it there is a more meaningful way for parents to feedback and seek to guide the work of their schools. What if we returned to the notion of the SEF. Before you scream “WORKLOAD!!!!” hear me out. What if there was a requirement for every ‘school’, in the  widest sense, to publish their SEF on the school website.  What if this SEF had nationally agreed sections. Again, others will have more agreeable terminology, but what about if they were:

  • Learning in our school
  • Outcomes for our pupils
  • How we communicate with parents and how they engage in their child’s learning.
  • Partners who support our work and the support we offer to others
  • Governance of our school

Each section might have 2 subsections e.g. ‘What we think we do well’ and ‘What we think our next steps are.’

What if these formed the basis of the inspection and were the section headers for the inspection report. They lack complexity and they are ambiguous. But as many colleagues will agree: if you really want to assess what pupils can do, the more open-ended the task is, the better chance you have of seeing the widest and deepest application of their learning.

Schools would be free to choose how they described their work in each of these sections. Some schools may seek to include links to other areas of their website, videos, vlogs etc., etc. They may wish to describe and illustrate their work through the use of many voices – perhaps even the pupils. But it would be for them to decide.

So, I wonder… I wonder how things could be different…

I wonder what the difference might be if  ‘Parent View’ was the title of a page on every school’s website that included a rich and detailed picture of their school, for all the world to see.


So, those are my wonders for the moment. Excuse my public scratching but hopefully this will morph into a collection of ideas that could have some influence. Remember, Sean, and therefore Ofsted, is listening. He will be at our #LearningFirst Sheffield conference in May. Let’s give him some ideas to think about!

Essentially, the question I am trying to explore is, ‘How could Ofsted be a positive driver for learning in our schools?’ I wonder…


Related thinking from elsewhere:

Amanda Ripley on Twitter

At traditional parent-teacher conferences, 20% of parents showed up. Student-led conferences: 90% @EWAEmily …


One comment
  1. A refreshing and highly thought provoking piece exploring who Ofsted is really for. It is great to see Sean Harford responding positively to your wonderings. Looking forward to seeing him at the #LearningFirst Conference.

    I also love the phrasing that you have used and will be encouranging my staff to use it too
    ‘I wonder what the difference might be if…’

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