Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders


A thorough medical should be prescribed

As we all complete our SEFs and ensure that our schools are prepared for a new-style inspection, we are keen to glean intelligence from colleagues who have already had direct experience. Naturally, we all want a clear understanding of what this "health check on the school's central nervous system", to use Ofsted's own description, is going to entail.

The analogy of a school as a large and complex organism has been used before, but are Ofsted right in choosing to focus upon this vital organ when trying to diagnose overall health?

There are very obvious parallels between the operation of the nervous system of a living being and school improvement systems but some serious questions need to be asked if Ofsted's focus on the central nervous system is to be put to the test.

What would happen if there was a problem with the sensory nerve endings or the sensory neurones?

The animal's central nervous system would receive no information or, worse still, the wrong information about stimuli, it and would react not at all or inappropriately, obviously a very dangerous situation.

What would happen if there was a problem with the motor neurones or the effectors?

No matter how perfect the information reaching the creature's central nervous system, the instructions coming out would lead to no response or, worse still, the wrong response to the stimuli, once again a very dangerous state of affairs.

So let us apply this thinking to the school. The team could include practitioners of the highest calibre, processing information and reaching the right decision every time, but the possible pitfalls are obvious. If monitoring procedures and communication routes provide the central nervous system with misinformation, decisions reached and subsequent responses will inevitably be inappropriate.

If, having processed reliable information, instructions from the central nervous system do not reach their targets or the target effectors are not in working order, again responses will be inappropriate.

My advice to Ofsted and its inspectors must therefore be that, while the 'health check on the school's central nervous system' is a good sound bite, inspectors need also to focus on the peripheral nervous system.

A proper diagnosis depends upon a more detailed check-up. It is also important to remember that while neuro-specialists can be relied upon to inspect the school's nervous system in its entirety, other specialists will be needed to ascertain whether the other organ systems bring about responses which have the desired impact.

David Peck,
Head of Mosely High School

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