Ofsted & Trust - New Rules, New Relationship

How can a new relationship be formed when there’s been a historical power imbalance?

Ofsted announced yesterday it plans to stop ‘rating schools’ and instead will work with school leaders to inform parents of changes and improvements by letter based on collaborative discussions.us will be on the provision of “blended learning” which is the mix of onsite and remote education schools provide.

We love this, why...

...because this represents na evolution, adaptation and progress in an uncertain and changing world. It feels as though moves are afoot to treat school leaders more as equals in service of creating a better educational environment for pupils and staff.

It sounds like progress and yet…

…it’s tough to change the nature of any relationship where judgment has been a central feature of the landscape. To date, prior to Ofsted inspections, many schools have engaged in a flurry of activity and a huge amount of preparation for such visits is common.

An Ofsted rating has had the power to make or break a school’s local reputation.

This in turn has the potential to significantly affect pupil numbers and therefore funding.

Outstanding Ofsted ratings have enabled some parents to ‘cherry pick’ their child’s school.

As a parent, in the past I have to admit to noting Ofsted ratings without objectively knowing what they really meant.

A poor rating can have the effect of labelling a school, and its staff and pupils negatively. Locally I know that this creates reputations that stick. This to some extent negates the good work and care that schools and teachers collectively put into our educating our children.

By any measure that feels toxic. A single number rating has the power to crush not create.

Consider this. In any of your personal relationships, how safe would you feel if you knew that the other person had the power to damage your reputation publicly with a rating? I think back to the film the Social Network and Zuckerberg's comparative rating game FaceMash and the reactions it drew by comparing one female student with another.

How much stress would you feel going through a similar FaceMash rating process?

When anything is publicly judged based on an appearance (think Ofsted rating banners outside UK schools everywhere) many details and much truth is hidden. Because the truth is that a number blends the nuances and complexity.

For one party in any relationship to have the imprimatur to affect the reputation of the other represents a power imbalance. This affects trust and make an honest, open, stress-free relationship of equals impossible. This in turn means that attempts collaboration can easily get mired in anxiety.

What’s the impact?

Relationships become strained. Energy is wasted trying to ‘make things OK’ instead of using that energy to proactively and collaboratively create something better .

The cost is not just financial – the cost of visits, administering ratings, and the bureaucracy to support this - it also damages the health of those in the system itself and this costs us all.

While continuously improving education services so that they meet a good standard is important, the way this is done affects everyone involved

One last question-

In any relationship, when one party chooses to take actions that remove a power imbalance how long does it take to rebuild trust and bed down a new collaborative process?

Judging by the reactions of schools and staff in the past day or so, it could be some time.

The good news is time is a great healer.

While we applaud Ofsted for seeking positive change and adapting to a changing educational landscape they now have a new challenge.

How will they back it up with specific actions that bring school leaders into the new process as equals so that together, they can create something better for all.

Dr Karen Wilson, co-CEO of KCKD a science-based mental health & well-being consultancy working with pupils, parents & educators to embed healthy learning habits for life.

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