Impact of Ofsted on teacher well-being – Is this executive agent of the State contributing to mental health problems? Is it time for a new Ofsted paradigm?

At the moment Ofsted are currently surveying teacher well-being. They’ve sampled a selection of schools; though certainly from responses on social media, many teachers are not aware of the actual survey.  So what is the current state of teacher well-being with respect to Ofsted? Some will say its dire, others will say its pretty benign given the funding crisis in state education.  What is true is that there will be a spectrum of views on well-being linked to work load, Ofsted  and the unique culture of the work place.

I want to focus on Ofsted and present my views on how I feel Ofsted has impacted well-being in schools. I speak with 26 years experience in the system covering a range of inspection frameworks. My views reflect both personal experiences but also those of colleagues who I do not identify in this short blog.

So how do I define well-being?

‘Workplace Well-being relates to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organisation. … Workers well-being is a key factor in determining an organisation’s long-term effectiveness.’

So my 4  key questions are:

  1. How does Ofsted  affect how workers feel about their work?
  2. How does Ofsted affect the working environment or climate in schools?
  3. How does Ofsted affect work organisation?
  4. How does Ofsted affect long term effectiveness of school workers?

 

  1. How does Ofsted  affect how workers feel about their work?

From my experience, the Ofsted process has quite profound impacts on how people feel about their work.   For many, after a challenging experience where judgements are negative from Ofsted, people generally feel a sense of inadequacy, depression and a profound feeling of letting others down. In a profession which is predominately centred around relationships,  staff often feel that they have failed each other following a poor Ofsted judgement. A sense of guilt pervades leadership and emotional turmoil after a poor inspection judgement can  cause long lasting damage to people’s confidence, self-esteem, feelings of adequacy and ability to carry out their job role effectively. For many the ordeal is too much and may lead to long term sickness or staff leaving the profession.  In the circumstances where the judgement is more favourable, there is a sense of  ‘pure relief’ to be honest.  Very few schools these days actively ‘celebrate’ positive Ofsteds; though some may get a banner produced for the school railings or a nice badge put on the home page of the website. Most colleagues I have worked with  have  suffered high levels of anxiety during Ofsted and for many, even when there is a positive outcome, anxiety still exists as leaders look to raise the bar further with the Ofsted action plan layered on to existing improvement plans. Very few colleagues have told me that they have found the Ofsted inspection as a force for good about how they feel about their work. The main reason being that they feel the judgement is pre-determined by and large by data and the real work of ‘education’ is not valued by the inspectors. In my own experience, the only time I have felt Oftsed has had a positive bearing on my professional work  was when I had one-to-one meetings with HMI’s. The quality of educational discourse with HMIs has always been very high and has allowed me time to reflect on my approaches to my professional work. Sadly, speaking to other  colleagues, the quality of HMI seems to be perceived to be in decline.

2. How does Ofsted affect the working environment or climate in schools?

In simple terms, Ofsted has an unfortunate toxic impact on working climate for schools in my opinion..  Many colleagues state that they seem to be working for the next inspection outcome as opposed to working for children.  The pressure is constant –  leadership teams plan  their strategic leadership objectives couched in Ofsted language. It pervades the culture of schools to such an extent that it becomes embedded in leadership practices which can cause harm. Hardly ever, do I feel or sense colleagues excitement that Ofsted is a force for good or improvement. This is a sad reflection of an institution which in my opinion has lost its way and is perceived by colleagues as a punitive regime.

3. How does Ofsted affect work organisation?

It creates more work. Simple as that. The overwhelming response from my colleagues and most certainly my experience.

4. How does Ofsted affect long term effectiveness of school workers?

There are very few academic studies available to consider the long term impact of Ofsted on a school worker. From my own experience, I feel that the impact has overall been unhelpful. The work load preparing for Ofsted, despite their protestations that you don’t have to really prepare is vast. The relentless,  tread mill of keeping up with frameworks and ensuring you have an answer for anything is exhausting and despite teaching in England being one of the most heavily scrutinised systems in the world, I do wonder if it has impacted standards for an individual over the long term. For me, on balance it has not despite some positive experiences with HMI’s.

Overall, I have lived with Ofsted over my whole career and have hoped they would be a force for good in school improvement. My judgement is that they require serious improvement and sadly have a very serious credibility problem with educational professionals. The anxiety created by a punitive, high stakes accountability system is well documented.  The sad reality is that I believe this executive agency of government is contributing to mental health problems in the education sector.  It is time for Ofsted to wake-up to this and do something constructive and perhaps be radical. A paradigm shift for Ofsted  is now essential.

 

 

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