COLUMN: Teaching is facing a morale and recruitment crisis

On my desk I have a guide which tells me what Ofsted inspectors are looking for when they come to visit.

Tuesday, 24th January 2017, 4:30 pm

It is very far-reaching, including student behaviour, marking, how lessons are delivered and how the leadership team inspire and monitor their peers.

It is also a comprehensive document, lasting for 73 pages, but woe betide any head teacher who doesn’t know it chapter and verse, because the reputation of their school, and their career, depends on being able to address every point.

I mention this because at the end of last year, the former head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw, the self-styled Clint Eastwood of education, rode off into the sunset, handing over the reins to Amanda Spielman.

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We can only hope that she is more Debbie Harry than Dirty Harry, because in my view Mr Wilshaw made few friends with his robust approach and really turned the screw on the teaching profession.

I have no problem with seeking to raise standards. We do an important job educating children and have a duty to parents and tax-payers, so an organisation that acts as a critical friend is beneficial.

However, in my opinion Mr Wilshaw too often focused on negatives, such as re-labelling schools which were “satisfactory” to “requires improvement” – adding a new, dispiriting spin to essentially the same outcome – and made sweeping and unwelcome statements about whole swathes of the country’s schools.

He may have impressed those who think teachers are lazy and that our kids deserve better, but by being so unsupportive, I feel Ofsted has laid waste to a generation of talented teaching professionals who have quit because of this constant negative narrative and the strain of having to satisfy its relentless demands.

In my view the criteria as outlined in the inspection report is too open to interpretation – which can lead to inconsistencies - and has a very narrow view of what a good school should do. It means that a bad day at the office, or the wrong inspector at the wrong time, can tarnish a school’s reputation for years.

This has a direct knock-on effect on recruitment, which in turn affects class sizes, results, life in school, future Ofsted inspections and, ultimately, students’ life prospects.

There is a growing, yet unseen morale and recruitment crisis in teaching and, while her organisation is not the only cause, my hope is that under Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s role as a critical friend places more emphasis on being a friend - and less on being quite so critical.