Ofsted - The Office for Standards in Education - loved and hated in equal measures depending on whether you are in the teaching profession or a parent.
Teaching unions maintain that the inspection process reduces morale and has a negative effect on teachers performance. They feel it is punitive and a non-developmental experience. The proposal for unannounced inspections is now likely to be dropped as Michael Gove has taken note of the additional anxiety that teachers claim this causes. When I was working as an Executive Head teacher and as a National Leader in Education, I never felt that the style and mode of the process added value to the professional development of the schools in which I was engaged, which was a pity given the level of investment. Nevertheless, accountability is important in any organisation and I would hope that more enlightened thinking, rooted in trust and respect, would produce a system of appraisal that enables schools to pursue a vision for excellence with confidence and in self-belief.
From a parent perspective and now as a grandparent, I do believe that the publication of information about schools and their achievements is of great value and as a Head teacher I considered ofsted reports to be a good means of communication with prospective parents. The corollary to that view, however, is the importance of context. Leadership is key to any organisation's success and a change in a school's leaders whether it is governing bodies or head teachers can have a rapid and dramatic influence on the standard of a school's educational provision. So it is prudent to keep up to date with what is happening in the schools that are of interest to you. It is also helpful when making a judgement using ofsted reports that a range of reports from a variety of schools are read to fully understand the style and terminologies used. Furthermore, this will help to reveal what is important to you, taking into account perhaps, the specific needs or talents of your child. For example a school with an overall judgement of 'good' may have a satisfactory special needs department and if that is relevant to you, then that would need to be explored.
Many parents value traditional methods in education because that is what they have experienced and understand. However, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, a balance between the best of tradional methods and approaches to learning, with new, progressive and cutting edge opportunities to excite, engage and equip the modern learner, is essential. It is this combination,in careful balance, that they will need for the future.
Ofsted reports provide valuable information and a clear overview of a school at a given time. Matched with other parents' opinions and your own astute judgement on, not only where a school is at currently in communicating its' vision, but on how it plans to develop that vision for the future, will help you to make the right decision for your family.