So, she was then she wasn’t, and now she is again: Amanda Spielman will become the next Ofsted chief inspector. If a runaway lynx on Dartmoor and North Korea’s determination to start a nuclear war wasn’t enough to raise your heartbeat today, then perhaps Nicky Morgan’s sucker-punch of a final sentence in this challenging response to Neil Carmichael was. Basically, Neil, you didn’t do your job properly.
Having had the pleasure of meeting her briefly a couple of weeks ago I can attest to the now well-trodden statement that Spielman is very different to Sir Michael Wilshaw. Whether a fan of Wilshaw or not, I reckon we can agree that he didn’t always endear himself to those people and institutions in whose interests he acted: although at times misquoted, he did attempt to change Ofsted for the better, succeeding in places and failing in others. Andrew Old, among others, critiques his reign much more elegantly than me here.
But back to Spielman. There are, of course, many things we might all hope for from a new chief inspector, and I suspect the most tantalising prospect is that of Ofsted’s potential influence on workload. Whilst Sean Harford et. al. have done much work to promote Ofsted’s new approach to inspections – specifically regarding marking and teaching styles – the very fact that a ‘myth busting‘ document has to exist testifies to the previous influence and fear that an Ofsted culture helped create in many schools. And so I happily read Spielman’s letter, dated 3rd July, to Neil Carmichael, the Chair of the Education Committee, in which she said this when defining her vision of the Ofsted model under her leadership:
I explained to you much of what I think that means in practice: […] building stronger feedback loops that make sure that Ofsted truly understands its effects on the systems it inspects, and reacts when necessary.
One problem that I’ve noticed with recent Ofsted communication is the failure to take responsibility when schools crank up the pressure as a result of either previous policies, miscommunication or misunderstandings. To be fair, Ofsted has made clear its intention to rid itself of ‘rogue inspectors’ and those who claim to sell Ofsted insider knowledge. This, however, has not been entirely successful, at least if my social media timelines and conversations with colleagues in other schools is anything to go by.
Ofsted has, on occasion, chosen to step back from these criticisms, proclaiming that it’s not their fault if workload has increased: “See the document!”, they say. Well, yes, and in my previous school I did, to no avail. At other times Harford has generously stepped in to state that Ofsted are not looking for x, y and z. What I took from Spielman’s letter, however, is that Ofsted must take greater responsibility for the effects that years of prescribed teaching methods have had on the profession. After all, many of those in leadership positions worked at the chalk-face during the years of fancy-footwork lessons, graded observations and mass-deception. I’m not blaming these people at all – those are the conditions under which they taught and were trained. I was, too.
Now’s the time, however, to really ditch the nonsense. Now’s the time for Ofsted to play a leading role in changing cultures, not just pointing to a handy PDF. Now’s the time for Ofsted to, as Spielman says, understand the effects its decisions have in schools and on teachers.