Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Trouble brewing


The mood is sombre. Hunched shoulders and ashen faces tell their own story. Reports are coming in from the front line from comrades who have been in battle with Ofsted in its latest guise.

The language is reminiscent of 1940. Had we heard that "Johnny has gone down at Washmerton High?" Ofsted's latest weapons, which are causing such heavy casualties, are safeguarding and assessment to support learning. It's like the V2 rockets. We never saw them coming.

There is talk that too many school entrances are not properly guarded. Perimeter fences are too low. Steve McQueen and his motor bike ride again.

Badges are not being taken seriously enough. Stories abound of inspectors accosting any one looking vaguely 'iffy' on the corridor. Apparently they are refusing to accept "I've just come in to see my mates" as the proper password. "I'm just doing jobs for Madame Crapaud 'cos I'm no good at French" probably won't impress them too much either.

The Times reported that one school blew it because they offered the inspection team coffee before checking their identity.

There are safeguarding pitfalls everywhere. Ours was Edna. Every school has a legend - one who does not fit a stereotype, be it a teacher, a teaching assistant, a cleaner or a secretary. Somebody who probably breaks the rules, but has a heart of gold and a reputation to match.

Edna is our much loved tea lady. She waits on the staff hand and foot and has done so for years. We are provided on a daily basis with delicious cakes and biscuits and unfailing courtesy, friendliness and respect. Her deferential manner is born of years of service to others.

As the headteacher I command special attention. I have my own tea caddy and my own brand of tea. I get Ringtons and the rest get Tetley's. And in Yorkshire that conveys a message...believe you me.

But she is nobody's fool and will not be patronised. In her spare time she supervises the year 7 dinner queue.

Edna had never had a CRB check till the scare stories put the wind up us. But then, she is 82. Our first attempt didn't go brilliantly, as Edna started to worry that she couldn't be totally sure where she was living in 1938. You wouldn't blame her for taking offence.

Thankfully, having lived through the Blitz, this latest indignity was chickenfeed. She is now 'done'. We think some kind of award ceremony might be in order. We won't go down because of Edna.

'Near misses' are a different matter. In their wisdom North Yorkshire County Council publish a periodical glorying in the title Accident and Incident News. It is full of incidents involving bins, buckets and, appropriately enough you may feel, balls.

Ladders are another favourite topic, as are shelves, which invariably seem to be too high or too low. In some schools the caretaker would appear to spend an unconscionable amount of time on the roof.

A puddle on the floor produces a paroxysm of excitement. Heaven help us if an unexploded bomb ever turns up in Bagby and Balk. So what's to do? Fill in a form, of course.

There are, as you would expect, several to choose from. A hazard form or a near miss form? And don't be so na´ve as to look for the accident form. Accidents don't happen. They're now called 'adverse safety events'.

Heaven help us. When Ofsted latch on to this, we're sunk. Holed below the water line. Fill in a few forms, quick.

There are apocryphal stories of inspection teams walking out before they ever get near any actual lessons. Safeguarding...failed! But assuming inspectors actually manage to reach a classroom safely without tripping up, being propositioned by strangers or hit by a caretaker falling off the roof, then the fun really starts.

Differentiation, assessment to support learning and thinking skills, all in a 20 minute observation. And they assume teachers can achieve that 20 lessons a week, day in, day out.

The new Ofsted framework has put us on a war footing. It deserves a suitable response. Never in the field of educational conflict has so much paper and so much effort been expended to such little effect.

Dennis Richards is head of St Aidan's CofE High School in Harrogate.

Want to have the last word?

The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you'd like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

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