Headteachers’ Roundtable Meeting with Sean Harford

Today members of the Headteachers’ Roundtable met with Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Schools, to discuss the newest evolution of their inspection framework due to go live in September 2015.

As always I wanted to ensure representation from the special school sector and wanted to seek some clarification from Sean on some elements of the framework that affect special schools specifically or disproportionately.

89% of all special schools are either good or better which means that the overwhelming majority will be subject to the new section 8 inspections – that is to say, a one day, HMI-led inspection. One key difference between mainstream schools and special schools and PRUs is when the school is notified that it is to be inspected (paras 67 and 68, p19 of the School Inspection Handbook – section 8). Mainstream schools will be called on or around midday the day before the short inspection as per the current protocol. For special schools and PRUs “Ofsted will normally contact the provider by telephone to announce the short inspection at, or just after, 9.00am on the working day before the short inspection. This is to allow the lead inspector time to assess the specific contextual factors for the short inspection, including the number of sites in use and the specific nature of the pupils’ needs. Following the notification call, the lead inspector will conduct an on-site face-to-face preparation meeting with the leaders from midday onwards.”

There has been some concern since publication that this on-site meeting will be used to scrutinise data and to me it is clear that this would then become the de facto start of the inspection. Sean advised that this is set aside if there is a need to plan an inspection of a PRU or special school that has a number of sites, therefore making it difficult for one HMI to inspect thoroughly. If your provision is single site and straightforward the HMI may not feel the need to attend in the afternoon of that day at all.

Sean was rightly keen to point out that use of alternative providers and multi-site provision is of interest to Ofsted in terms of the school’s responsibility to keep its students safe. I put it to him that, although my school is single site, I may well have Years 11 and 14 out on work experience, for example, and Years 10 and 13 at an FE college on a particular day. This may, in his view, be something that an HMI may want to visit on that afternoon before arriving on site the following morning.

To be clear, if there is to be an afternoon meeting it will be to plan a multi-site inspection and will not be a meeting to scrutinise information about student progress.

The second question I had for Sean related to para 178 of the School Inspection Handbook: “Inspectors will consider the progress of disabled pupils and those with special educational needs in relation to the progress of pupils nationally with similar starting points.” Special school Headteachers all have different tales to tell of individual inspectors’ opinions about national benchmarks to use. “We don’t accept CASPA at all.” “CASPA is fine, but only when used alongside Progression Guidance datasets.” “CASPA is fine along as you only use age and prior attainment and don’t filter for individual types of need.”

I asked for some clarification as to how prescriptive Ofsted were going to be on the use of information relating to national benchmarks to avoid just such differences of opinion in the future. As part of a wider answer about how schools should embrace this opportunity of the abolition of levels to build their own robust systems (he’s right, by the way) Sean said that Ofsted deliberately avoided naming a specific dataset or benchmark. Use what you want but have a clear rationale for doing so, strong evidence to back up your judgements and ensure you’re judgements are externally moderated.

Thanks to Sean for putting the time aside to meet Headteachers’ Roundtable this afternoon.

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The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, never knowingly understated, this week pronounced headteacher recruitment to be “shambolic”.

My own experiences of this, both dim and distant and much more recent, certainly back this up. I’ve been part of the selection process for the recruitment of three headteachers and have been through the process once myself. In each case, especially in the case of my own recruitment, the process felt like a formulaic How to Recruit a Headteacher in Ten Easy Steps that had been downloaded from the internet with no deep thought as to what the school needed.

Four recruitment rounds. Four times where the ability to talk like a management textbook and dress like Gordon Gekko paid off.

So, Jarlath, what animal best describes your leadership style?” “Well, Bob, I’m a giraffe. I see everything, but I have my feet firmly on the ground.” For pity’s sake.

Knowing the type of leader a school needs at any particular time is far from easy and this is why mistakes are made. In my own school and in others the consequences to the organisation and to its people can be significant and I’ve written about that elsewhere in Part of the Furniture.

Sir Michael talks about spotting talent early. In the early days of my teaching career I was sceptical about the ability to spot future leaders. My first headteacher, the very supportive and encouraging John Goulborn, told me that I’d be a headteacher one day; a prediction that I swiftly dismissed.  This dismissal was backed up by the Fast Track (remember that?) assessors who rejected my application to go on the programme by telling me that I had no clear skills as a leader and that my thinking was pedestrian.

Fast forward to yesterday. I received an e-mail from my colleague who sat in on the assessor’s final feedback meeting with our colleague who is finishing the School Direct programme. To the surprise of absolutely no-one she passed with flying colours. I remember the feedback I received from her interviewer a year ago for a place on the programme, “She’ll have your job in ten years’ time.

One of my main roles is to grow the leadership talent in my school as well as I can. This is not always easy in a small school as opportunities are inevitably limited. This is why I will lose an exceptional colleague at the end of next week. She’s keen to progress and I am unable to meet that need. I am glad, though, that she will go out and change the world in another school and I know that it’s not the last that I will see of her.

I was also fortunate to spend yesterday with my colleagues in the Headteachers’ Roundtable. This is the single most impressive collection of leaders that I have the privilege of spending my time with. They would all undoubtedly score very highly on those rubbish recruitment tasks that I had to endure, and there is a complete absence of inane management speak amongst this group. So, what differentiates them and the best leaders out there from the crowd? They have three things in common and in abundance: brains, heart and balls. Plenty of leaders score highly on two of those key attributes, but only truly great leaders max out on all three. If you’re spotting future leaders or recruiting for a headteacher that’s what you need to look for.