Ofsted and the need for resilience in the face of being downgraded

As a school counsellor I want to share with you the process and initial fallout from a recent Ofsted judgment. I’m observing first-hand, the impact of this downgrade, and how I have been considering my role in supporting the school’s processing and recovery from this. I have worked in the education sector for 33 years and have been part of 11 inspections, the last four in my role as school counsellor. I have seen many reactions to these inspections and have supported schools while they assimilate their learning. In January this year, we were one of the first to be inspected under the new Ofsted framework. This is a revised framework, which had additional training for lead inspectors around mental health following the tragic suicide of Headteacher Ruth Perry, after her school was inspected and downgraded from outstanding to inadequate. 

We were downgraded from good to requires improvement. It was a huge shock. It became clear through the discussions held with the inspectors that they appeared not to be interested in the low starting points of our children or the context of the school setting, they only wanted to look at our results. School staff are passionate about the community we work in and, since the inspection, staff are working with children and trying to continue to instil hope in their future whilst feeling battered by the process of Ofsted. It seems the children here don’t fit into the required box and that appears to be our fault, with no room to question whether the box is suitable for the children! Our children seem to be square pegs and there are only round holes. 

The school has worked hard in recent years to treat our children’s emotional wellbeing with the importance it deserves, while emerging from the shadow of Covid. Last year we received an award for excellence in our mental health provision, which still stands, yet academic outcomes are not where Ofsted say they should be, and so we were downgraded. There has been a collective sense of despair felt by staff in school who believe they are trying their best and doing their best. We can see how far some children have come developmentally, emotionally and academically. We hold their starting point and celebrate their progress. And we now have a punitive inspection system akin to a controlling parent. It’s saying we are doing it all wrong. What does this do to the mental health of staff? I am particularly mindful of the impact this is taking on the mental health and resilience of the Head Teacher. I now make a conscious effort to be more emotionally available to staff, checking in with them at the start of the day and signposting them to additional support if needed e.g. Employee Assistance Programme. I have also noticed more recently how I had neglected my own wellbeing, and the impact this was now having on my physical and mental health. This has left me pondering what lessons have been learned from the death of Ruth Perry and why there aren’t structures in place to support, nurture and celebrate the education system rather than it being a reductive process. 

Later in the year I will submit a case study for BACP’s Children, Young People and Families Journal that will chronicle the journey the school has been on after the publication of the Ofsted report. The reaction from parents, pupils and the wider community and the impact this is having on the staff in school.