The tail wagging the dog – Ofsted, accountability & how we run our schools 1


Having read Stephen Tierney’s blog post on accountability and other Twitter discussions on how Ofsted needs to change I have been thinking about the whole system of school accountability.

I think that for Ofsted to change and schools have to significantly change how they view accountability. Currently many schools run like this:

Who is most accountable? To who?

Who is most accountable? To whom? Who makes strategic decisions?

They run their schools for Ofsted. Using the criteria that Ofsted publish for inspections as a basis for what they do. When Ofsted make a press release it is repeated in school and if action is needed to change what the school is doing to meet this, then it is done.

They listen to every Government announcement and re-act to it regardless as to what was happening before (A classic case of this was schools entering early for English & Maths and then when it was announced that these figures wouldn’t count in league tables suddenly withdrawing the entries).

The ‘power’ of decision-making comes from the top. The people at the bottom are the ‘receivers’ of the decisions. They aren’t protected. They are just told that Ofsted/The Government have changed so we ‘have’ to do it. The tail is wagging the dog.

Is the tail wagging the dog?

These schools are confusing being accountable to Ofsted and allowing Ofsted to determine how things are done.

Whilst many blame Ofsted for this, essentially it comes down to the leaders in a school to decide what is happening in a school. Ofsted say:

We inspect schools to provide information to parents and carers, to promote improvement and, where applicable, to hold schools to account for the public money they receive. 

It doesn’t say, ‘by following  model X’. They don’t care how it’s done (within health and safety guidelines) they just want to check schools are doing what they should be.

So why aren’t schools making their own decisions?

They don’t know how to

Education is an odd system. If you’re a good teacher you get promoted to do things that aren’t directly teaching. Like leading and managing. Being a good teacher does not necessarily mean you are a good leader and manager. You may lack the strategic skills needed on how to pull together all the aspects of your school and come up with a coherent, manageable, effective plan. In this case you will then look to what is being ‘said’ in education and you can just follow that. If it comes from ‘above’ then you can always justify it.

They are scared they might get it wrong

This is high stakes stuff. You’re impacting the quality of education for hundreds and thousands of children. You’ve got to get it right. If it comes from ‘above’ it must be right.

They don’t want to – it takes too much

To come up with a  comprehensive plan  for your school is one thing. To implement it, monitor and evaluate it is huge. Schools are busy places. A dysfunctional leadership will make the task almost  impossible.

They think there’s only one way of doing things

The Ofsted way. There must be a ‘golden’ formula and Ofsted are the ones who are giving it. You spend their time trying to work out what this formula is from speeches,  press releases and Ofsted documents.

The next post will look at what Ofsted and schools can do differently to ensure that accountability and strategic decision-making are separated.


3 thoughts on “The tail wagging the dog – Ofsted, accountability & how we run our schools 1

  1. I think you are spot on here. The problem is, while most discussions are monopolised by managers and the stakes are so high, the chances of such issues ever getting discussed, let alone resolved, are pretty slim.

  2. Pingback: Bloggers lead the campaign to reform Ofsted | Pragmatic Education

  3. Pingback: Bloggers lead the campaign to reform Ofsted

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s