My visit to Ofsted; engagement matters

Few months ago Mike Cladingbowl had tweeted that he would be arranging seminars in order to meet personally with people working in schools and exchange ideas/thoughts. I asked if governors could come along too and Mike replied that he was very happy to talk with governors and had done so in the past too (our very own Shena had been to one such meeting). I then met Mike at the Academies Show in London. He told me that the meetings were still on his to do list and dates were being looked at.

Few weeks ago I and few others who had expressed an interest in attending these meets received an email giving us a choice of dates and venues. Unfortunately, the only one I could make was one in July. Mike’s office contacted me and said that August suited everyone else, so the meetings had been arranged then but Mike was happy to talk to me over the phone. I was quite happy with that as it meant a dialogue could be started. Then, as luck would have it, Mike was coming down to London and I was asked if I wanted to have a face to face meeting rather than one over the phone. I obviously agreed and this is how I found myself in Aviation House 17th July. Mike was accompanied by Anna Macmillan, Head of News and Parliamentary Affairs.

Once the date for the meeting had been confirmed, I asked governors on Twitter if there were any questions they wanted me to ask on their behalf. What follows is an account of our discussion which was based around questions I had and questions others had tweeted.

Mike was very clear that he valued governors. He thought the good governance was very important. When he was Head he had had a very good governing body. By and large schools that are good have GB’s that are good. Schools which are not as good as we would like them to be have GB’s which, too, aren’t as good as we would like them to be. Mike was clear that in his opinion good governance added value to schools. Good governance

  • Stops schools declining and acts as a safety net (I think this is a very important point to note. If governors do the job they are supposed to then there is less chance of complacency setting in)
  • Brings breadth to the school
  • Ensures there is diversity of opinions
  • Ensures that the GB is a sounding board for the Head and not “an echo chamber”

Mike said that Heads need governors. The job of governors is not only to challenge but to support as well. Heads need the support of their GB’s which good GB’s are happy to provide. He acknowledged that good governors made a difference; approximately 750,000 children are in schools which have improved and are now judged to be at least good. Mike acknowledged that it is hard to recruit good governors.

I asked Mike what were his thoughts about having ex-heads and HMI’s on governing bodies because governors were “amateurs” as suggested by Sir Michael Wilshaw while appearing in front of the Education Select Committee. Mike understandably said that he wouldn’t comment on what Sir Michael said. What he would say is that in his opinion training was of the utmost importance. His personal view is that governors “should have training and lots of it”. Those of you who know my views on training will understand why this was music to my ears! I asked if it would be an idea for Inspectors to ask to see the training record. Mike said that Inspectors know how much training governors have had by reading the minutes. (Many reports I’ve read where governance has not come out as good have commented about the training or lack of it. Training is something we must take seriously now. DfE will not be making it mandatory any time soon but Ofsted will comment on it and there is nothing to stop governing bodies from making it part of the Code of Practice).

I asked Mike if Ofsted would/should consider having governors on the Inspection teams as they would be best placed to judge governance. Mike thought this was an interesting idea. He said when teams used to have lay inspectors (this stopped in 2005) some of these were governors and some went onto become governors. From 2012 onward Inspectors need to be teachers. One problem Mike saw in asking governors to act as inspectors was that there won’t be enough governors so that each team had one. It would not be fair for some GB’s to be inspected by governors and others not. (It looks to me that at the moment we won’t be getting governors as inspectors but who knows it may change in the future. Certainly, this is something we, as governors, can request Ofsted to revisit).

I wanted to know if Ofsted would go back to a separate judgement for governance. Mike said everything was possible but at the present there were no plans to do so. There will be, as we know, separate judgements for Early Years and Sixth Forms. Mike said that Ofsted’s view is that fewer judgements tell the story more effectively. Ofsted will need to be convinced that a separate judgement for governance was lead to an improvement in governance and the school as a whole. (I personally think that as governance is part of Leadership and Management (L&M) it should be judged under this. I also think that this is one way of making the point that governance is intrinsic to L&M.)

This led me to my next question which concerned communication from Ofsted. I asked why doesn’t Ofsted inform the Chair as well as the Head of the impending inspection. Mike said that there may be practical problems in contacting the Chair. The Inspector informs the Head who should immediately inform the Chair. There is no reason why the Chair could not then contact the Lead Inspector if he/she wanted to The Head is asked to organise the meeting with governors. The Inspection team can quickly judge if the team has been handpicked and will ask to see other governors. If during the Inspection the team identifies some issues, for example with Achievement or Finance then the inspectors can ask to meet with the chair of the relevant committee.

Mike confirmed that in case of MATs, the inspectors ask to meet the local governing body (or, what I think is a better term, the advisory board). If issues are identified then the team can go up the chain.

I was interested in finding out how Ofsted inspected governance. Mike said that inspectors should look the GB/committee minutes. He said he certainly did when he was an HMI. Inspectors should also look at Terms of Reference (ToR) because in weak schools with weak GB’s the ToR’s are not good enough. (I must say I didn’t think the ToR’s were looked at during an inspection. So, maybe an idea for all of us over the summer is to have a look at these and see if they are as good as they can be). Weaker ToR’s result in governors not looking at higher level, strategic stuff, but actually interfering in the running of the school. Mike thought that the publication of registers of governors’ interests is something which must happen. Mike and I agreed that with greater autonomy comes greater responsibility and accountability. Mike also stressed the importance of good, professional clerking (something else we agree on!).

I then went onto ask Mike that if we were part of L&M why we were not invited to the final meeting the team has with the Head and SLT. Mike said that he saw no reason for governors not to be there. He said that the Head would need to agree but Inspectors would have no objection. If they do, Mike wants to know! (This, I think, is an important clarification. If a Head objects to governors being present then I would like to know what the objection is).

I wanted to know if Ofsted was able to pick up those cases where the Head is autocratic and tries to influence the GB. Mike said this was uncommon and inspectors rarely came across this during a routine inspection.

I asked Mike what he thought of the Scottish system where schools are judged against their own SEF. Mike said he expected schools to have a vigorous self evaluation in place. Although SEF is not required many schools do still use it.

I also asked Mike if it was possible to write to the Chair as well as the Head when, for example, the outcome has been Outstanding. The Chair could then relate that to the governing body. Mike said that another example where this would be appreciated would be when a school moved out of a category. Mike promised to take away this suggestion and look at it.

We talked about the Scottish system where school are judged against their SEF. Mike said he expects schools to have a rigorous self evaluation process. If school could be encouraged to be better at self evaluation than that would be good for all concerned. Mike said that Heads going into school on Monday mornings should ask themselves, “Is there a child in my school who is not doing as well as he/she could? If yes, then how can I help that child?” (This is something we as governors should be asking ourselves too. Obviously, we do not know about an individual student but we can modify this question to something like, “Are different groups of children in our school performing as well as they can? If not what is being done? What strategies are being put into place and what effect/impact are they having?). The SEF becomes more important in the proposed changes to how outstanding schools should be inspected. Under the proposed system these schools will have light touch inspections at two to three year intervals by HMI’s. Under this system Ofsted will want to rely more on the evaluation carried out by the school itself.

We talked a bit about what inspection would look post levels. Mike said that the shift would be about inspectors spending more time looking at the work of the students, looking at what’s happening in classrooms and talking to Heads about their assessment of their students. There will be more reliance on the schools’ assessment systems. Looking at the school’s own tracking systems would give valuable information about progress students are making within various key stages. We talked about the fact that there has been some discussion on various forums if Ofsted should visit classrooms. Anna said that speaking as a parent she would question an inspection which didn’t go into classrooms! Mike agreed that parents may express concerns if Ofsted did away with this part of the inspection.

My last question was about the emphasis placed on phonics in KS1. Mike said he was a secondary school English teacher but he remembers how his own children learnt to read. His daughter was taught phonics but also found it easy to learn whole words. Mike said he accepted that children learn in different ways but they are unlikely to fail to read if taught phonics.

The question of having a second Twitter feed (the first being @ofstednews) came up too. Mike and Anna felt that having two accounts for one organisation probably is not ideal, especially as @ofstednews does answer queries too. I suggested that maybe the thing to do was to publicise the fact that @ofstednews answers questions as well as put out news bulletins.

The above discussion just scratched the surface and each question could have had many follow up questions. I wanted to get though as many as I could so at least we get a sense of where Ofsted stands on these issues.

I had been told the meeting would last an hour. As it happened we went over slightly, but Mike was very gracious and did not make me feel as I was overstaying my welcome. I am very certain of the fact that this was not a PR exercise on Mike’s part. He genuinely wants to engage and seek views and opinions. It had seemed a bit surreal to go to Ofsted and be the one asking questions! Mike, being the delightful person he is, made the experience enjoyable. I hope to be able to meet with him again and carry on our conversation.

I must thank Christopher and Anthonia who made this meeting possible.

Note: Text in brackets are my post meeting notes/observations and not part of the discussion.

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5 thoughts on “My visit to Ofsted; engagement matters

  1. Pingback: Education Panorama (August ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

  2. Pingback: Reviewing 2014 and governance matters | Governing Matters

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  4. Tim Jefferis (@tjjteacher)

    Thanks for sharing this. I am very glad I connected with you because I had not seen your blog before. You must pour a huge amount of energy into it – it is fantastic. If you don’t mind I will be referring to this post directly in my thesis. I’ve also put your blog into bloggtrottr so that I don’t miss future posts!

    Reply

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