Governors and leading in spite of Ofsted

Alison Critchley has the pleasure of speaking at the Education Britain Summit this week in Manchester. Here is her account of the day:

I was asked to talk about leadership in complex times, and in particular governors’ role in leadership, reflecting on the lessons of the RSA’s recent report on school governance.  I talked briefly about the important role that governors’ have in ensuring that schools remain grounded in their local communities.  With all the pressures on head teachers to focus on key accountability measures put in place by Ofsted, DFE and the Regional Schools Commissioners, it is for governors to ensure that schools respond in ways that best meet the needs of their own particular community of pupils.

It was also useful to hear from a wide range of speakers about the issues that are at the forefront of their minds, and how these fit with RSA Academies’ current priorities and challenges.  Three issues had particular resonance:

  • The importance of skills and preparing children and young people for the world of work;
  • A desire to change the accountability framework, and particularly Ofsted, in ways that incentivise schools to maximise a broader range of outcomes.
  • The need to focus on teacher retention, and the role of teacher autonomy and professionalism within this;

It was encouraging to hear Robert Halfon MP, recently appointed chair of the Education Select Committee, emphasise the importance of skills, stressing that education needs to be relevant and offer high value skills.  Claudia Harris, the Chief Executive of the Careers Enterprise Company (CEC), picked up on this theme.  She talked about the Gatsby Framework, which underpins the RSA Academies’ Commitment to the World Beyond School, quoting the evidence that having four or more encounters with an employer reduces young people’s likelihood of being NEET (not in education, employment or training) by 86%.  I also met the Chief Executive of the Wonder Why Society, based in Birmingham, which runs a website allowing primary aged pupils to ask questions of professionals in different fields – a useful new resource for the primary schools in our Family.

Another theme was the sentiment that Ofsted is not fit for purpose, and doesn’t always measure everything that is important, with school leaders feeling pressure to prioritise those areas that Ofsted is interested in. Robin Street, for example, co-Principal of the UCL Academy in London talked about how his school does prioritise the type of employer encounters and work to develop skills that benefit pupils, noting wryly that none of this is reflected in the SEF (self-evaluation form) that forms the basis for Ofsted’s inspection.  Meanwhile Angela Rayner, in an interview which drew heavily on her personal experience, indicated that an incoming Labour government would want to significantly reform Ofsted.  When looking for schools for her son Charlie, who has SEND, the Ofsted outstanding school was sceptical about their ability to meet his needs, whilst a ‘good’ school welcome her and her son enthusiastically. As she noted, “children like my Charlie don’t do you many favours with Ofsted”.  If we want schools to be more inclusive it is important that better account is taken of the additional work that needs to be done by schools in ‘challenging circumstances’ – this from Andrew Morrish FRSA colourfully explains.

Mary Bousted discussed the barriers to retaining teachers, noting that England’s teaching workforce is uniquely skewed towards younger teachers when compared with other European countries; 52% of teachers have less than 10 years’ experience.  She referenced Andreas Schnieder’s comments that teachers in England have less autonomy than in other countries, and feel de-professionalised, which may be presenting as big a barrier to retention as pay and workload. There is a potential link here with the work that RSA Academies are planning to do looking at where and how giving teachers autonomy and space to be creative is most beneficial, building on the RSA’s previous Licenced to Create piece.

So all in all an enjoyable and enlightening day, and arguably a more successful event than a certain party political event taking place a few miles up the road on the same day!