Prior to the partygate storm resurfacing this week my social media timeline was slowly getting flooded by people speaking out about OfSted Inspections.
For what it’s worth I’m in complete agreement that schools need to be held accountable and indeed need to be regularly checked to ensure that standards and safeguarding are upheld, however I don’t think that OfSted is the answer.
The pressure on headteachers is frankly ridiculous, and it feels like months of planning and teaching get wasted as schools put all their focus on ticking the boxes of “the inspection”. Given that those boxes are arbitrary, changing in cycles or on whims of the “powers that be”, you’ve got to question their real purpose.
I understand the wording of the outcome seems to be important to some parents when choosing schools for their children but I’ve also seen for myself how schools with the coveted “outstanding” tag seem to focus more on maintaining their rating than caring about their students – surely the baseline for any school?
The spotlight was pointed to OfSted due to the family of a former headteacher claiming that it was OfSted, and OfSted alone that had caused the head to sadly take their own life after their school had dropped from outstanding to inadequate. Seemingly a family friend was a publicist who was helping the family actively campaign for changes to OfSted.
My issue with weaponising one tragedy though is that the narrative completely failed to take into account any other factors that might have contributed to the family tragedy. Suicide is invariably the final symptom of a person being unwell for a little while. For sure the stress of work, a poor inspection, a failed relationship, a recent bereavement etc could all prove to be the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, it’s unlikely that this one off event was a weighted bail of hay that proved to be fatal.
When somebody dies it’s a very normal reaction to be angry with the person for leaving this world, that anger can often be more pronounced when the death has been created by suicide. Far easier to project that anger at others rather than try to metabolise the complex emotions yourself.
Grief has no reasoning or logic so I’m not having a go at the family here. Seemingly they had the connections to project their own feelings far wider than most.
Given that OfSted seems to be the common enemy to all of the teaching profession, it’s no wonder that so many people got behind the protest. One of the unions started to promote the series of events as having the potential to be a watershed moment for the profession.
However leaving a narrative of OfSted has the potential to “kill” is desperately unhealthy and unhelpful to all concerned. The family wanted teachers to wear black armbands for future inspections – a wish that one school implemented – but again what message is that really putting out into the world? The inspectors aren’t “murderers”, their people equally under pressure, and no doubt equally attempting to do a good job.
What messages are we sending out to our young people if the narrative is that one event is a killer?
What a shame that the campaign wasn’t equally as focussed on looking after the mental health of teachers and headteachers. On being the “watershed” moment to insist on whole-school mental health policies for all schools. The spotlight could have been pointed at looking after staff as opposed to demonising a regulatory body.
As a direct result of that campaign we’ve already seen one tabloid run an article about several other head teachers who they claim took their lives simply because of OfSted. However, when you read the stories, you can clearly see that the people involved were already under pressure or experiencing problems.
Mental Health is big news, and since the pandemic, weaponising it has become the norm, but in doing so we are raising anxiety and perpetuating the problems.
So here’s to systemic changes within the education system that are focussed on support and improvement, and where mental health is privileged not weaponised