As we wait patiently for the new OFSTED Framework we have been given a few clues as to what changes might be afoot. One of the key focuses of the new guidelines seems to be wellbeing; that of staff as well as students.
OFSTED has been a cause of stress for schools since its birth in 1992. At the time I was sitting my GCSEs but my Mum was a teacher and I can vividly remember her getting very anxious when they received “the call” the first time.
As I then embarked on my own teaching career it was like a cloud hanging over you all the time. You knew roughly when an inspection was due and were waiting with sweaty palms and impeccable planning for that day when they arrived.
Of course in those days you had much more notice and had time to prepare fairly thoroughly for their visit. My first OFSTED as a qualified teacher was just before May half term and I spent the whole weekend before re-writing my entire planning file, not to change anything, but in case they couldn’t read something!
I have not been the biggest fan of OFSTED over the years I have to confess, I don’t think many teachers are. Between their unrealistic targets and other enforced demands on schools have resulted in many schools feeling compelled to teach to test rather than looking at the children in their classrooms and helping them to achieve the best they can, whatever their strengths and give them a genuine love of learning along the way.
Despite the best efforts of teachers to do just that, they have been acutely aware that should their class not meet all the academic targets that have been set they will be scrutinised and criticised for not ticking that box.
As a result, for reasons based in fear, many teachers have had to resort to teaching to test and have not been able to do the job they passionately wanted to do when they began their teaching career. It’s heart breaking.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
According to Amanda Spielman’s in October last year we have reason to be hopeful.
During her speech she said that OFSTED should be a “force for improvement”, well, yes it should, is she implying in any way that it isn’t at the moment? We will never know. She also acknowledged that the current system is putting too much pressure on teachers and that there has been too much focus on testing and not enough on curriculum and learning.
There will be greater emphasis on the needs of the child and schools will be rewarded “for doing the right thing by their pupils”. After years of focus on results, this could indeed be the change we have been looking for.
According to The Telegraph, on 22nd December 2018, OFSTED is also considering introducing wellbeing and mental health assessments for schools too. Whilst I am a little cynical about this, the fact that the focus is shifting to look at the impact of our education system on the whole child and the wellbeing of staff too is undoubtedly a positive. I am slightly concerned about how they intend to carry out this “assessment”, after all, mental health is incredibly difficult to measure. We all have mental health, some of us have good mental health, some of us are less mentally healthy.
Looking at the relationships within the school, teacher attitudes, teacher workload and absence for me would be a good place to start. I believe wholeheartedly that the atmosphere in a school is dictated by the staff, if the staff are happy, calm and content to be there, the children will feel secure and be happier while they are at school too.
Mental health is a huge area
It is important to remember that there are many factors that contribute to our mental wellness. Our time in school and engaging in school work is undoubtedly one factor but other factors such as family, physical health, relationships, financial stresses and many more, all contribute. I wonder then if there will be increased funding for schools, since this is something which comes up time and time again when I talk to teachers about causes of stress. Perhaps there may even be a meaningful pay rise for staff so that they can afford to live and support their own children, as well as providing stability and good mental health for the children in their class.
I am trying hard to remain positive about this new framework and look forward to it being released to see what it actually contains. Of course at the moment, nothing is official, but it certainly seems that it could be a step in the right direction. A move towards empowering teachers to do the best for the children in their care, enabling them to use their professional judgement to educate the whole child rather than navigating them towards the next test or exam. A move towards a holistic education system which values the whole child.
Of course, I am delighted that there is going to be a focus on wellbeing, in my opinion this has been the biggest shift in education over recent years. Schools have independently seen the need to care for the mental wellbeing of both staff and students, but it is wonderful that they will be rewarded for this. Staff and students will never perform as well when they are stressed and anxious as they do when they are calm and happy. By focusing on wellbeing we will naturally see an improvement in results and we will also be sending happy, well rounded, emotionally secure children out into the world. I hope this new framework will be a force for powerful and significant change in our education system, it is long over due.
If you are expecting a visit from the inspectors check out my tips for surviving OFSTED.