A Mock Inspection by any other name would smell as foul

Other than to my mum (obviously) it is getting harder to figure out who I answer to for my school’s performance. To give you some idea of the level of confusion here’s a quick who’s who of the usual suspects:

It is a bit like being a child whose parents have split and therefore has 2 pairs of parents/step parents who don’t communicate with each other, all wanting to impose a different set of rules and not knowing who is in charge.

Couple 1
Here I think of OFSTED as my somewhat distant father who has custody of me very rarely (currently for only one day every 3 years) but who has strict rules which I’m supposed to understand are there to help me be a better person. I am always scrupulously polite to him as I know the severe consequences of angering or disappointing him, but secretly I have come to dislike and resent him intensely.
The Regional Schools Commissioner is a somewhat creepy new step mum whose motivations and expectations I haven’t yet managed to work out and who I don’t really trust.

Couple 2
The Local Authority is my mother whose position has been eroded. She spends a lot of time trying to be my friend rather than my mum, but occasionally realises this is inappropriate and over-reacts.
The private School Improvement Company  is mum’s abusive new partner who thinks she’s being too soft and therefore feels it’s his responsibility to apply the iron rod of discipline that mum doesn’t deliver. 

And so to the story…
We are now 3 and a half going on 4 years from our last inspection; we are well in the window of fear. We have been very busy firstly trying to do the best job we can for our children, but also checking that we have everything in order ready to show an inspector, especially since our writing data last year, then Maths this year were for various reasons disappointing. In these circumstances we would welcome any support and advice to help us retain our ‘good’ category, and from my point of view even more so since this will be my last OFSTED before I retire in July.

My excellent team all know exactly where we stand with having an uphill task with inspectors and we have been hard at work making sure that we have all the evidence we need to support our case with previous data, and that we can show how well children in the school are currently doing, but without getting so obsessive about it that we stop giving the children such a good deal.

In the middle of this comes our Local Authority with their school improvement private company/partner. They have looked at our data and decided, justifiably in my view, that the school is in some danger of losing its good grade. However, suddenly and somewhat suspiciously at the end of the summer, all the local consultants who know the school, know me and have worked with us for years, previously with the LEA and now for the Improvement Partner company, retired en-mass. I received a call from one of their new consultants saying that they were going to do an evaluation visit. I responded politely and said that we welcomed the opportunity to get to know new advisory team and that we also were concerned to make sure that the school gets it right/continues to give the children the best opportunities. I also said that while I welcome constructive visits, I am not in favour of mock inspections which damage schools and don’t add value. She assured me that it would not be a mock inspection.

Meanwhile I had spoken to a colleague who had experienced one of these ‘evaluation visits’ and described it as worse than actual inspection. She shared the timetable with me and it looked exactly like the timetable for a real inspection even including feeding grades back to governors at the end. I awaited our plan with some trepidation and my concerns proved well founded when I was emailed something almost identical. I called up the consultant and asked her what differentiated this from a ‘Mocksted’. The only bit of her answer that made any sense was when she said that they had called it an ‘Evaluation Visit’ instead.
I also enquired why the template for the visit was almost exactly the same as one for another school that I had seen. The process seemed to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach that ignored the context of the school. The lack of professional courtesy and trust annoyed me too. Now I am not boasting but merely providing context when I say that I have led schools in my authority through 4 successful OFSTEDs (two schools, two inspections each) all in quite challenging circumstances and so being treated like a rookie head in front of my staff felt like a total lack of respect for my experience and hard work for the children and authority.

Meanwhile my colleague phoned to say how her visit had gone. She was incandescent with fury saying that her staff were on the floor after the experience and that she felt that her leadership had been undermined with them. She was now really hoping that she had at least a couple of months for them to recover before her real inspection

Supported by my highly principled deputy, I tried my best to negotiate the most unhelpful parts of the process away: the grade, the judgemental nature, the being done to rather than being helped with, but with little success. The consultant told me that other schools had found the process useful and gave me the name of a colleague who she’d recently conducted a review with who could back that up. Guess who that was?

Aside/digression #1
I wonder how honest we are as heads when people ask for feedback. Once inspected by OFSTED do we positively fill in the questionnaire out of relief that they’ve gone, and out of a childlike fear that they will come back, or share a negative evaluation with the next team to come in? And so it seems with the Local Authority. I feel that we need to be more confident as school leaders and defend ourselves by being honest about these things by saying when they are unhelpful, and I’m as guilty on this as the next head for example…

I am not boasting but merely providing context when I say Inspectors have left all my inspections truly believing we found their input helpful and developmental, which just goes to show what a good liar I have become (sorry about that Mr Garvey).

Into the fray steps the hero of this tale, my superb chair of governors who spoke to our regional OFSTED director and others before informing the consultant that he would not let her on the premises (on a technicality he had found – dm me if you want to find out more). This ground the process to a halt.

Here I should perhaps be very explicit about what I’m saying and what I’m against. I am all in favour of the local authority knowing how things are going at the school and very open on our strengths and weaknesses. However we all know how stressful inspections can be, although consultants who have not worked in school for many years might have forgotten, and how they require us to dig deep into reserved that once depleted take months or even years to recover. Schools are amazing places at inspection times burning with a bright flame but this cannot be sustained and exacts a heavy price on everyone in the school. We are often at our flattest immediately afterwards. This impacts on everyone and takes time and energy to reverse.

We then had a visit from the new big boss of the consultancy, whose predecessor was universally known as The Grim Reaper, as you only ever saw him in interviews and when you were in trouble (except for that one time I got free tickets to see a magician/hypnotist at a local small theatre and was called up on stage to pretend the chair was glued to my backside etc and I looked out to see him and his young family glaring at me from the centre of the fourth row, but that’s another story). She was able to negotiate with myself and my chair a revised format for the day that did away with the judgemental bits (though of course they would have some idea by the end and be able to report back to local authority) and hence the grand feedback of grades. They will be working with us to see how accurate our self evaluation is. They will still sit with my excellent deputy and be very thorough about the data and action plans. They will still be rigorous with me in looking at safeguarding and they will still look around the classes and look at books. Crucially though,the whole purpose of the day will be to give us advice on how to improve or how to present our case more coherently to make sure we retain our good grade, rather than on locking themselves up in a private room and then emerging to give us a grading which will have no real validity or significance for OFSTED, who would disregard it anyway and make up their own mind.
Our key message was that we are busy getting ready for real inspection, we do not want to deplete our energy and exhaust our staff on something that is of little real-world consequence and then not be ready for the real deal. Our schools are Schrodinger’s Cats, you can’t measure us without collapsing our waveform and it wastes a lot of energy (not to mention kitty litter) to rebuild it.

Sean Harford, OFSTED’s National Director of education has been very clear on Twitter (@HarfordSean) that schools should not waste their money on conducting Mocksteds or Quasi-inspections because they do not add value and in fact become a distraction from our real purpose of providing a high quality education for the children. Even,as in our case, when the school doesn’t have to pay the distraction is still there and I understand that OFSTED will be advising against this approach too.

There are many better ways for the authority to evaluate:

Far be it from me to tell local authorities how to evaluate schools, but if I did I might suggest that they simply come in and have a cup of coffee (or beverage of their choice since I don’t subscribe to a one size fits all refreshment policy) and talk to the head about the challenges facing the school and then have a look around and maybe look at books etc and plan together a programme of support.

Equally far be it from me to tell Mr Harford and his fellow inspectors how to make sure that Local Authorities don’t impose, and independent ex inspectors don’t sell, the MOCKSTED approach which actually harms school, but if I did I might suggest that they include commentary on it in their reports. For example:

The school’s improvement ambitions have been significantly hampered by inappropriate interventions from the local authority and their partners offering unofficial and unhelpful grades and judgements rather than working with school leadership to identify what support is needed and then deliver it. Fortunately, in this case, the head was able to use their ferocious intelligence and film star good looks to inspire staff to overcome this impediment.

The moral of my story is that, with the support of a good chair of governors and leadership team, you can take control of these processes and make them useful. So what happens next? Will the revised process be more helpful? And will OFSTED go well. That’s a story for another day…

An, as alway, the last word should go to The Clash

Sean H don’t like it
    Mock the MOCKSTED
    Mock the MOCKSTED

Sean H don’t like it
     Scrap the MOCKSTED
     Scrap the MOCKSTED


My Nightmare Before Christmas

Twas the night before OFSTED , when all through the school

Not a teacher was relaxing, as is always the rule.

With bright displays all the classrooms were dressed,

In hopes the inspector would be greatly impressed.


The children were nestled all snug in bed,

Unaware of the panic attack afflicting their head.

And Amanda Spielman relaxed in London, and I in a flap

Worrying about the consequences of each minor mishap.


When out on the playground there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from SEF writing to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.


The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objectives below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a big black car, shifting into low gear.


With a besuited smart driver, in hybrid Lexus

I knew in a moment he was here to inspect us

His influences like ghosts behind him came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!


“Now, Wilshaw! Now, Spielman! Now, Greening and Harford!

On, Morgan! On, Gibb! On, Gove and on Woodhead!

To the top of the framework! To the top of the data!

Now judge away! Judge away! Consequences later!”


As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly

I had slept through my prep time and sorely did cry,

So up to the front admin office he came,

With his case full of notes to apportion the blame.


He was dressed all formal, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all laundered from his shirt to his suit.

A name badge from OFSTED he had prominently displayed,

And he looked like an executioner, just sharpening his blade.


And then, in a twinkling, I heard him talking to Wayne

And knew that things would never be the same

As I drew in my breath, and was turning around,

Into my office the inspector came with a bound.


His eyes-how they froze! his frown how scary!

His cheeks in grim poses, his voice full of query!

His droll little mouth was drawn up in a sneer,

And my explanations I knew he’d not hear.


The trace of a snarl he held tight in his teeth,

And self righteousness encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a poker face and little good cheer,

I shook when he spoke, all full of dark fear!


He was stern and unsmiling, a sinister elf,

And I winced when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had plenty to dread.


He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

With the single central record, then turned like a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a tut, he completed his notes!


He sprang to his phone, to his team gave a whistle,

To get them to fly in like pricks on a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy OFSTED to all, and to all an RI!”

Why we should celebrate when Evil is also Plain Stupid – School Leadership Masterclass – Part 3

From Hitler to Trump most tyrants and despots achieve their status through subtle manipulation of public opinion, cloaking their dark intentions behind a positive and public spirited crusade to make things better for those in their key demographic then nudging that over into hatred of those they perceive as obstructing this end. Their supporters can quickly find themselves wondering how they came to be on the wrong side of the argument. But then pig headedness and a competitive urge to be on the winning side kicks in and they rationalise it away and go on to achieve terrible things. With hindsight the leader’s writings often reveal hints that should have warned us of what was going on. 

Likewise in education we have schools, and especially academies, that slip under the radar doing bad things like encouraging the least able to leave to improve their data and adopting draconian discipline systems. But just occasionally we find a truely stupid, or perhaps brave and subversive, leader who broadcasts publicly all the awful things they are planning to do and, like a footballer crying ‘Ref, what did I do wrong?’ is amazed at the animosity this engenders among parents and fellow educators. However, since this is going on quietly and secretively in some other schools and children are suffering the consequences, we should be grateful to Barry Smith of Yarmouth Charter Academy  for being open about his plans, which I consider to be evil. It is helpful that they shine a light on the most reactionary end of education so I say ‘Cheers Bazza!’ you might just have prevented this sort of thing from happening:

When should NQTs smile (and other usefultime checks)

There has been a bit of untwitterly bad tempered discussion about the advice sometimes given to NQTs not to smile until Christmas and how literally it should be taken.

Clearly prescriptive inflexible advice given without consideration of different contexts can be really unhelpful and cause a lot of frustration, so here is some more…

On the upside though you can do the following from pretty much day 1:

Relish the progress the children have made.

Realise how important you are to them.

Remember that you are doing one of the most important jobs in the world.

Be proud of your achievements and give yourself a bit of slack over things that don’t work well.

Look after yourself; take time off if  you are ill. Anyone who says ‘I’ve been teaching for 20 years and never had a day off.’ Is either incredibly lucky or an irresponsible idiot.

Ignore foolish advice from hasbeens on twitter. 

Follow the advice of Mr Sinatra and Mr Vicious and Do it Your Wayeeeeeeeeeeee! (One also sang ‘The best is yet to come’ which will be worth remembering on some of your darker days, while the other sang ‘I wanna be your dog’ so you can take your pick!)

5 Tips to help you hit the ground running this term

There seem to be lots of pieces about at the moment giving advice on starting a new term. The writers all assume that the problems they have are shared by their readers, and that their solutions will work for all. So, in that spirit here my addition to the cannon (this is the high bar I’m setting for my team this year)

  1. Turn up on time 
  2. Turn up sober 
  3. Try to remain positive until at least break time (or 9.30 if it’s a training day) 
  4. Turn your swear-mode from ‘Holiday Brickie’ to ‘Term-time Prude’ 
  5. Memorise the faces of your nearest and dearest, you won’t be seeing much of them till late October 

Why having a long summer holiday is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman, (and how to justify it to critics) – School Leadership Masterclass part 2

Since I am leaving the profession at the end of next school year, I want to take the opportunity to share some of the wisdom I have collected over the last 30 years and share it with you in the brief window before it becomes irrelevant and I become another bitter old ex teacher.

Why having a long summer holiday is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman

In many ways the long summer holiday is both the chief blessing and at the same time the chief curse of our profession. I probably need to remind everyone at this point that teachers’ summer holidays are unpaid. We are paid to work for 1265 hours per year over 195 days. The fact that our wages are averaged over 12 months is purely a convenience measure. On the one hand it is great to have this amount of free time but, once you take into consideration the enormous proportion of the holiday that is taken up by having to repeatedly explain this simple fact to friends or acquaintances on Twitter, there really isn’t much leisure time left at all. 

A key test of your skills as a school leader is to explain the above to the Tory-boy (or girl) on your governing body. We all have one – I think it’s obligatory (though I must confess we currently have a vacancy – Nigel, you are much missed). If you have struggled to get this across in a positive way, may I commend the following as it contains a clear explanation of some of the drawbacks of having long holidays, incorporating some SPAG friendly constructions, and just the right hint of casual sexism which will keep your free market obsessed governor sniggering into his/her copy of the Daily Mail:

Having a long summer holiday is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman because…

  1. You look forward to it for ages, but the reality rarely lives up to the expectation.
  2. Deep down you feel that you just don’t deserve it.
  3. It would be wildly optimistic to expect it to happen more than once a year.
  4. You are so unused to it that that you initially become very disorientated and appear to be in a daze.
  5. Parts of your body which stay covered for the rest of the year finally see daylight.
  6. Friends shake their heads and complain at your undeserved luck.
  7. In spite of your best efforts it’s all over much too quickly.
  8. The whole experience can be spoiled by being seen by parents/children from school.
  9. You should avoid putting up too many photos of it on Facebook/twitter to avoid causing jealousy in others.
  10. It can be even more exhausting than being at work.

And finally, although overly positive and highly inaccurate memories will see you through the cold Winter months, you should resist the temptation to bore your colleagues to death by going on about it endlessly in the staffroom.

The 3 Keys to being a World Class Head Teacher  – School leadership masterclass part 1

Since I am leaving the profession at the end of next school year, I want to take the opportunity to share some of the wisdom I have collected over the last 30 years and share it with you in this brief window before they become irrelevant and I become another bitter old ex teacher.


The 3 Keys to being a World Class Head Teacher

Reflect on these over the summer and you will return in September not only a better and more thoughtful head, but also a more worthwhile human being (you’re welcome!).

Step 1: Lead Better

Without buy-in your inspiring education vision counts for nothing. All too often we head off boldly on a new and questionably useful initiative, only to find that the staff are not with us. It is essential that our colleagues follow us, even if it’s only on twitter. 

Step 2: Manage Better 

After mansplaining, manspreading and manscaping, managing is the greatest challenge facing male head teachers. The effects of stress and the passing of years plus the fact that we will now all have to work until we are 74 have taken their toll on our appearance and perceived age. As someone once addressed by an angry child as ‘ You grey haired nob!’ when I was only 34, I am acutely aware that we need to appear youthful and in touch with young pupils and teachers. To this end we have all spent the past year weaving examples of the modern lingo such as ‘bruv’, ‘dude’, ‘daddio’, ‘groovy’ and ‘hip’ into our briefings, staff meetings and assemblies. We may now have to up the ante by surreptitious use of toupees, hair dye and Botox. 

Step 3: Delegate Better

(Matt could you fill this section in on your next management day, or ideally by first thing tomorrow. Make it pithy and witty)

DOS for Dummies – a guide to politics by and for someone who wasn’t really paying attention

Over the past week or so politics has suddenly become interesting and much talked about. Inspired by seeing an episode of Murder She Wrote in which Jessica Fletcher goes into the Cabot Cove computer store and lingers in front of a copy of ‘DOS for Dummies’, I have decided to help ensure that those who haven’t been following the news get a chance to catch up. I have, therefore written a quick summary so that, in just five minutes, you can be up to speed on everything and not feel left out, or look foolish, in conversations with your fellow liberal elite members. Apologies if I am not 100% accurate all the way through, but I have been a bit busy too.

In 2008 largely because no governments dared to restrain them, bankers caused a massive crash which left economies around the world struggling. The British Prime Minister of the time and his chancellor (Brown and Darling) intervened to ensure that the country maintained growth and gently reduced spending to bring about a recovery. In a far more important matter Brown called a bigoted woman ‘a bigoted woman’ and lost his credibility. The new conservative leader, David Cameron, saw that Brown and Darling had averted crisis and did not like it one bit. He immediately and publicly vowed to create a Broken Britain. Using Brown’s catastrophic policy of not turning his microphone off in the car against him, and backed by his heavy weight supporters  (Michael Caine and Coldplay) he toured the country vowing to break it by making an imaginary number smaller, which he claimed would delight our grandchildren when they learnt about it, and protecting the NHS from the excess of money which was piled up in operating theatres getting in the way of surgeons etc(while showing his sincerity by winking every time he said it). The electorate agreed that Britain needed breaking and voted him into Downing Street (although he had to take in some lodgers to pay the rent). Initially it was thought that the lodgers would stop him breaking Britain, but in the event they just held his coat while he got on with it.

The main tool Cameron planned to use was the referendum. This was a process in which people volunteered to be broken, assuming they were voting to break other people. His first attempt, asking Scotland if it wanted to be poor and isolated, failed and he took out his frustration on the poor and disabled, somehow framing the banking failure as their fault. Britain was instantly broken in two parts, the skivers and the strivers. Interestingly though almost all of the skivers thought they were strivers and acted as cheerleaders for the attempts of Cameron and Duncan Smith to punch them in the faces. There was even a TV debate in which a skiver shouted ‘Go on punch the skivers in the face!’ at which point Cameron punched her in the face and she was horrified. Still not satisfied that Britain was broken enough Cameron drained money from the NHS, education and Social care while freezing all wages. In a final attempt to destroy Britain totally, he arranged another referendum, one which would not be binding but which would give him an idea of how people were thinking. The wording of the referendum was something like, ‘Do you want yourselves and your children to be really poor and the laughing stock of the world?’. He knew if he lost the referendum then the country would be destroyed, but having it was his best hope to hold on to power. Egged on by Cameron’s rivals Mr Blobby and Govlum (who both really planned to heroically lose the referendum and become leader) the people narrowly voted yes. At this point, with Britain broken and divided, Cameron, his mission complete and with a song in his heart, left power, like his predecessor Brown, by leaving his microphone on.

Meanwhile the heavyweights of his party including Blobby and Govlum, slugged it out in the style of boxers paid to take a dive all collapsing to the canvas together. Meanwhile the illegitimate offspring of Cruella DeVille and Imhotep rose from the ruins to claim leadership unopposed and, sucking out the life spirit of her rivals, take on the mantle of breaker of Britain. She was in a position to utterly destroy Britain by enacting the referendum result as if it was binding and thus fulfil Cameron’s legacy. With the full army of Mordor behind her and her ring of power ably wielded by the press she had the world at her feet, except for a small corner called the Corbinshire. Determined to be the one PM who ruled them all she took on the humble harmless and divided hobbits who lived there with her army of Orcs. All that stood between her and total victory was a rag tag band of elves and dwarves, led by a single bearded figure leaning on a staff barring her way on the bridge crying ‘You shall not pass!’ She looked down at the hooded figure and,with the full force if the Mail and the Sun behind her, she struck him down. To her and everyone else’s surprise (with the possible exception of Michael Rosen) powered by an army of children, he rose up more powerful than she could possibly imagine. 

And now Mayhotep sits in her bunker, her regime in tatters, wondering whether to get her husband to put her out with the bins or to swear allegiance to a band of Morlocks to hold on to power.

Meanwhile, we hobbits are left to await the final outcome so that we can begin to clear out the evil from our constituencies and town halls ready for a new and optimistic vision to flow across the country and plant the strong and stable oaks that will guarantee our country a genuinely strong and stable future. 

Ten strange years then and exactly as I remember them. But it will be up to the youngsters to decide what happens next.  By the next election whether it is months or years away, more of them will have turned 18 and more of us oldies will have shuffled off this mortal coil. I hope they will be in a forgiving mood after all the messes we have created for them.

However you spin it the moral of the story is that sometimes the young people surprise us in a good way! See also:
‘When William Came’ by Saki

Reality Check: What I tell myself VS what I really know deep in my heart

As one of those who broke up a week ago, I have now reached the 7 day low that we all experience as the dark first week of holiday of the soul, and from this uncharacteristically low point I inexplicably feel the need to reflect on the past 18 months. 

After all, 2016/17 has seen a huge change in the mood of our country and shown us a glimpse into the dark heart of our culture. We can’t close the alt-right/brexit/Trump door that has opened and pretend it doesn’t exist. However it doesn’t mean we have to accept it. I think we have to look deep into the fetid depths of these ideas that have unfortunately become mainstream and recognise and confront them in our own selves before we can comprehensively reject them. To me that means we (or at least I) have to stop kidding ourselves about our nature and some of the cultural garbage we have inherited. And then we will be free to decide that, just because we have these influences, it does not mean we have to act on them. We always have a glorious choice whenever we act.

At this point I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the following, but I hope they will help me make sense of the world and be more effective at making some kind of a difference. 

I tell myself: People (including me) want what’s best for them, their families and friends. 

Deep in my heart I know: People (including me) have a strong drive to take sides and win. The consequences are not important until afterwards, and only then as guidance in deciding who to blame. 

I tell myself:  People (including me) vote according to self interest or sometimes altruism.

Deep in my heart I know: People (including me) most commonly vote for whoever is promising to hurt people they don’t like.

I tell myself: Groups are aggregations of the views of the people who make them up.

Deep in my heart I know: Groups are zombies controlled by the strongest feelings present usually hate, anger, lust and jealousy and are usually remote controlled by someone with a financial interest in the outcome.

I tell myself: We are rational beings who make thoughtful decisions 

Deep in my heart I know: We are influenced by, and at the mercy of, currents and rip tides of feelings from those we associate with either personally or electronically (as well as attitudes that have festered inside us since childhood.).

I tell myself: We want to do good things and be guided by love, but often don’t have time/money/influence to act on this. 

Deep in my heart I know: We really don’t care about much. We have sentimental attachments to things, people and ideas, but these rarely transcend into love or commitment; however since hatred can be fanned for far less effort than love it more often guides our actions.

I tell myself: People will love the subtle horticultural joke in the picture for this blog 

Deep in my heart I know: No one will read the blog let alone look at the picture and realise it is of Gertrude rather than Dr Henry, unless I put in a none too subtle hint disguised as a final paragraph. 

Please feel free to declare yourself an exception to any of the above, but be aware that that will just be ‘what you tell yourself’.