Suffolk: Revised Ofsted guidelines could push head teachers to breaking point

THE new Ofsted inspection framework is placing added stress on already-pressured headteachers and could push some away from the profession, a teachers’ union has warned.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has criticised Ofsted for its new guidelines, and representatives from Suffolk and Essex say that, less than half a term after the framework was introduced, pupils and teachers are feeling the pressure. A school that would previously have been deemed “satisfactory” will now be judged as “requires improvement” and re-inspected within two years.

The aim is to push schools considered to be “coasting” at what was previously a “satisfactory” level to improve and reach the “good” rating. Ofsted says this is aimed at “raising the bar”.

Graham White, branch secretary of the Suffolk NUT, claims the new system takes a “punitive” approach and questioned whether it would have the desired impact. “The connotation of ‘requires improvement’ leads parents to believe that it’s actually far worse than it is,” he said. “They are putting out the message that schools are not doing well enough, and that’s why we need academies and free schools and tightening up on exams and the English Baccalaureate.

“Teachers have said it’s more stressful than it was before and schools are worrying about Ofsted. That’s putting a number of staff in a situation where they are being judged more rigorously than they were before and being pushed out of the profession and that’s especially the case if you are female, in your 50s and teach in a primary. That’s where most of the pressure seems to be coming.

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“Teachers don’t go into teaching to do a bad job. If Ofsted continues to be punitive and the inspectors continue to castigate teachers then it’s not going to encourage people to come into teaching or become a headteacher.”

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex division of the NUT, said the growing pressures placed on headteachers was also stopping deputy heads from seeking promotion.

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He said that schools going from the old “satisfactory” judgement to “requires improvement” would give the impression to parents and pupils that things were “getting worse”.

“But it’s just a desire by Ofsted to make it more difficult for schools,” he said. “It gives a false impression of what’s happening in schools when they change their goalposts.

“Particularly in primaries, there are deputies who don’t now want to become a headteacher because they see the pressures on the profession are so great it’s not worth the personal strain and stress that’s associated with it.”

Geoff Barton, head at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said his key concern was not necessarily the changes but the consistency with which they are applied by inspectors.

He said: “The new framework is certainly taking a tougher approach to judging schools. ‘Satisfactory’ is no longer seen as satisfactory. I think that’s understandable so long as all Ofsted teams apply the criteria consistently.

“That, in the past, has been a problem, and I hope that we will see a greater consistency between Ofsted teams in the future – so that all schools are being treated fairly.”

THE Office for Standards in Education introduced new inspection arrangements at the start of the term to “challenge the education system to do better” in a belief that “good” should be the minimum standard expected of schools.

It says research shows under the old framework an “inadequate” judgment could often act as a “catalyst for improvement” for schools.

Ofsted says it will now work with schools found to “require improvement” under the new framework in much the same way as it does with schools found to be inadequate.

Extending this way of working to more schools is intended to help tackle the number of “coasting schools” that have remained “stubbornly satisfactory” over many years.

Upon the launch of the new inspection framework, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said he “made no apology” for introducing an inspection framework that “raises expectations and focuses on the importance of teaching”.

He said: “The new short-notice inspections allow inspectors to see schools as they really are. Schools judged ‘requires improvement’ will receive strong support from Ofsted to help them get to ‘good’.

“We know inspections are crucial in driving better performance. Showing the need for improvement is often the spur that brings about change.”

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