Education secretary Michael Gove has strongly hinted that highly-unpopular no-notice Ofsted inspections may not continue, as a result of the current consultation on the regime.
In a speech to the NAHT conference in Harrogate, Mr Gove held out another olive branch to the profession by saying that no school should be penalised if it was “moving in the right direction” to come out of special measures.
“One concern of almost all head teachers is no-notice inspections. It’s not that the majority of head teachers think they’re going to be found out.
“People fear that no-notice inspections sends a message that we don’t trust the profession that Ofsted has become an arm of the Spanish Inquisition or Sean Connery’s Untouchables, that they have to be ready to storm in without any notice in order to deal with something that has gone drastically wrong,” said Mr Gove, adding to groans from some delegates: “That was never the intention. In the process of consultation Michael Wilshaw is clear that he is listening to the profession.”
He continued: “That is why when we come back after the consultation it will be clear that we have listened to the principle that teachers and heads deserve to have the chance to know when an inspection is coming and to be there in order to present the best face of the school. That message has been heard. Action will follow. In due course the chief inspection will explain how we change how notice is given so we combine efficiency of the inspection regime with fairness to schools.”
Speaking outside the conference hall, Mr Gove answered journalists' questions on the announcement. He said there had been a very strong steer from the profession but it was up to Sir Michael Wilshaw to explain how this would be taken forward. He expected this to happen “shortly” and did not want to pre-empt the Chief Inspector’s decision.
In a further announcement likely to please school leaders, Mr Gove told the conference that he understood the profession’s concerns over schools in a category having to show a greater than average level of progress, and the stress this caused. He promised: “No school or head will be penalised for moving in the right direction. We must not put anything in the way of these people, whose moral purpose drives them towards the most challenging schools,” he said, adding that heads demanded to be judged fairly. “It’s more than a compromise, it’s a new way forward,” he promised.
Mr Gove also talked of the possibility of paying inspectors more to ensure they were of the highest quality, and encouraged head teachers to come forward to become inspectors themselves.
These were the only policy announcements in what was a notably emollient speech. He spent the opening moments praising NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby and colleague Kathy James to an extraordinary degree. Later, Mr Hobby joked that he thought it was a ploy to make his members distrust him.
And Mr Gove also praised head teachers, blaming the media for not reporting widely enough the OECD pronouncement that English school leaders are some of the best in the world, consistently outperforming other jurisdictions in the quality of our school leaders.