Sir Robin Bosher, Ofsted's machine-gunner
Sir Robin Bosher has not been a member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, and has little inspection experience. In fact, I don't know if he has any inspection experience at all. After refusing to renew contracts for 1200 inspectors in one day, he was interviewed by Eddie Mair on Radio 4 (pm, 19th June). He gave the most disgraceful display of stonewalling since James Callaghan over the European referendum in the seventies, refusing to answer questions and smirking when Mair asked him what mark he'd give a schoolchild who didn't answer the question. Exercising power gives some people great satisfaction.
A few more questions need to be answered, or not, as is more likely. This section has been updated following information supplied by inspectors.
How did Sir Robin carry out these "assessments"? Did he read reports or just sift CVs and throw out those he didn't like? A comment was made about "leadership experience". Does this mean that all inspectors must be former heads? If so, that will further weaken Ofsted's very limited capacity to inspect subjects. He happens to have sacked the only inspector accredited to inspect one subject, not that I think he cared or noticed. Update. It is clear that very, very few inspectors who had not been headteachers were allowed to proceed past the application stage, and that most of those rejected did not have their work fairly assessed. For those who survived, Ofsted carried out an assessment procedure very similar in format to the way that Ofsted training has always worked - eg, inspectors would be given a body of evidence from a mock inspection, and asked to write a report. However, my information, from an inspector who survived the process, shows that the main form of selection was a paper sift.
As reports have to be approved by Ofsted, how could he tell, having been with Ofsted under a year, what was the work of individual inspectors and what alterations had been made by Ofsted or contractors centrally? Once again, did he care? It appears from my information that he could not, and did not attempt to do so. Ofsted did not look beyond the cv in many cases.
Previous changes to the Ofsted framework have required some retraining of inspectors. Why did this one require wholesale execution? There was a move towards a smaller number of full-time inspectors. This would have required some redundancies, but should not have been presented as raising the bar.
And finally, after a conversation with an inspector "kicked out" - in the inspector's words - after twenty years whose work on teams I led was consistently excellent and so assessed by Her Majesty's Inspectors - which Sir Robin Bosher is not - I'd like to ask him whether he has any sense of justice at all, or merely likes lining people up for his administrative machine gun. Were the inspectors inadequate, or is Sir Robin Bosher? This inspector was in no doubt - "Definitely a hatchet job," they said. "They're not interested in whether a person is a good inspector or not." Update. This remains true, and a disgrace. Sir Robin was not really in a position to judge what made a good inspector, on the basis of his own limited experience. I would still like to know if he has personally inspected so much as a bus ticket.
The KGB would be proud of Sir Robin, if not jealous - there is no appeal from 9mm. Except that here, with 1200 in a day, some more substantial weaponry was needed and supplied. Sir Robin certainly deserves an honour for his work, but it should have been the Order of Lenin rather than a knighthood.
In case I sound like an injured party, I'll make it clear that I'm not personally affected by the carnage, having carried out my last Ofsted inspection in 2006, though I'm still involved in school evaluation and support in other contexts. I have a file of positive evaluation letters from HMI, and was followed, without being told about it, into an inspection by a TES reporter in 2004, who wrote this about my personal contribution to the inspection:
But they don't blame the lead inspector. "The Regi told us on his pre-inspection visit that he would never pass by a strength without noting it, and that he would always set weaknesses in their context. I think he was true to his word," says David Smart. "He kept in touch with me several times a day, and went out of his way to pass on praise for colleagues who had been rated good, very good or excellent in their lesson observations.
He was willing to engage with students, too. He let my A-level sociology class question him very sharply about the Ofsted regime; he took it all on the chin, and was complimentary about their performance."
Head of RE Moira Middleton was also impressed. "The inspector smiled a lot," she says. "He was very positive and nice; genuinely interested in our work, supportive, sensitive and unobtrusive. He made us feel he was on our side." RE teacher Beth Hayward agrees. "He came into my first lesson. I was desperately nervous, and started it with some really terrible jokes. But he laughed at them, and put me more at ease."
I wrote my share of critical reports too, and had to endure the cycle of abuse and complaints that sometimes, though not always, followed them. It would not be fair to include a negative report here, as the schools have now moved on, but here is a positive report, used as evidence for a successful entry to the Evening Standard School of the Year Award in 2006:
Oh, and the answer to Eddie Mair's question about how long this has been going on? I don't believe that the inspectors are inadequate at all, though some are better than others. The system was wrecked in 2005 by the move from first hand observation to reliance on dodgy data - see Dispatches, 15th June - and by a centralisation of power that removed the independence of lead inspectors. The author of the disaster was Sir David Bell, and the system has not yet recovered. Ofsted, and not the inspectors, is the cause of the problem.
Ofsted urgently needs to set up an appeals process, staffed by experienced HMI who know what they are doing, and not by someone whose successful experience lies in another area of education. Serving inspectors should have had their work assessed properly. Brutality and ignorance in a school inspection system are not good enough.
This posting draws on evidence from two serving inspectors. Any others with something to add, please get in touch. Confidentiality guaranteed.
Further update, 27th July 2015. The form of words used to communicate the end of inspectors' careers was as follows, via email. You do not meet requirements. There is no appeal.
Ofsted once had a principle of inspection, set out in its Handbook, that people should be left feeling they had been treated well and fairly. Sir Robin Bosher's idea of good and fair treatment is a kick in the face.