Education & Family

Maverick heads stifled by Ofsted, says union leader

Russell Hobby addresses NAHT conference Image copyright NAHT
Image caption Head teachers should be free to try out new ideas, Mr Hobby will say

"Maverick" head teachers are being stifled by an inspection system that stops them doing their best for pupils, a union leader will argue on Sunday.

Heads should be able to try out new ideas, the National Association of Head Teachers annual conference will hear.

But too often they avoid risk, fearing Ofsted will disapprove, NAHT leader Russell Hobby will say.

Ofsted said it encouraged heads to do what was best for pupils rather than worry about how to get better report.

Mr Hobby will also urge heads to fight back against "crazy" government schemes.

He will tell delegates at the union's annual conference in Liverpool that the current system forces schools to "spend too long guessing what the inspector wants instead of thinking about what their pupils need".

'Dangerous fragility'

One of the most damaging aspects of the inspection system is the outstanding grade, he suggests.

"The outstanding grade tames the mavericks. When it underpins so many other opportunities and initiatives it introduces a dangerous fragility to the system.

"Let me be explicit. I believe schools can and should be outstanding. I just don't think we should let a regulator define it."

Speaking at a briefing for journalists ahead of the conference, NAHT vice-president Kim Johnson said: "It's about being a risk taker isn't it?

"It's about being creative in your thinking about what you want to do and actually saying: 'Here's new ideas, let's put them into practice,' but sometimes people are constrained because they think if they do that, Ofsted will say: 'That was wrong.'"

Mr Hobby told the briefing that heads of successful schools should be listened to "because they have the credentials".

"It's not someone who's got a struggling school, who's being defensive, this is a person who is engaging with education policy from a position of strength and those people should have a sense of independence, that they don't have to worry about the judgments of society.

Image copyright Chris Radburn
Image caption The inspection system means heads are not always able to do their best for pupils, Mr Hobby argues

"Sometimes you can see that in independent school heads, who don't have that pressure, they can speak out, and we may not agree with a lot of what they say, but at least they have that freedom to speak up."

In his speech he will also urge school leaders to take some responsibility for each other and ensure "no school is left behind".

'Crazy schemes'

Mr Hobby is also expected to suggest heads should speak out if they do not believe a policy will work.

"It is possible to make a good idea fail and, frankly, it is possible to make bad ideas succeed. You've proven that time and again in rescuing the government from its own mistakes.

"Perhaps you should stop doing that. It only encourages the crazy schemes when you find a way to make them work."

At the briefing, Mr Hobby explained: "I think we should be a lot stronger in saying: 'Look, you haven't given us enough time, this is not well thought through' and ask the government to go back to the drawing board."

A spokesman said Ofsted was "interested in the impact of the school on outcomes for its pupils".

"We do not have a preferred teaching style. We have made clear, in our clarification document, that it is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits rather than by reference to the inspection handbook.

"More than half of our inspection teams now include a serving practitioner, and we expect this proportion to rise later this year when we introduce the biggest changes to the way Ofsted inspects schools in more than 20 years.

"We urge head teachers not to think in terms of how they can get a favourable Ofsted judgement but rather what they need to do to ensure that every child in their school gets a decent education."

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