Inspections 'stifling mavericks'
"Maverick" headteachers are being stifled by an inspection system that prevents them doing the best for their schools and pupils, union leaders have warned.
Good school leaders should be able to take risks and try out new ideas, but often feel unable to do so in case Ofsted tell them they are wrong, according to senior members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).
They also suggested that headteachers should be much stronger in pushing back against "crazy" government schemes.
In his speech to delegates this weekend, general secretary Russell Hobby will say: "Schools must now spend too long guessing what the inspector wants instead of thinking about what their pupils need."
One of the most damaging aspects of the inspection system is the outstanding grade, he suggests.
"The outstanding grade tames the mavericks. When it underpins so many other opportunities and initiatives it introduces a dangerous fragility to the system.
" Let me be explicit. I believe schools can and should be outstanding. I just don't think we should let a regulator define it."
Speaking at a briefing ahead of the conference, NAHT vice president Kim Johnson said: "It's about being a risk taker isn't it? it's about being creative in your thinking about what you want to do and actually saying 'here's new ideas, let's put them into practice', but sometimes people are constrained because they think if they do that, Ofsted will say 'that was wrong'."
Mr Hobby said: "If you have led a school to achieve great things and you're achieving good academic results and a well rounded education, you should be the kind of person that can speak out, and we should be able to listen to those heads, and pay serious attention to what they say, because they have the credentials.
"It's not someone who's got a struggling school, who's being defensive, this is a person who is engaging with education policy from a position of strength and those people should have a sense of independence, that they don't have to worry about the judgments of society.
"Sometimes you can see that in independent school heads, who don't have that pressure, they can speak out, and we may not agree with a lot of what they say, but at least they have that freedom to speak up."
The union boss is also due to say that school leaders must take some responsibility for each other and " ensure that no school is left behind".
"Take ownership of standards. Take responsibility for each other. It is simple as that. These principles will guide us through the next five years as they have in the last five," he will say.
Mr Hobby goes on to suggest that headteachers must take the lead and speak out if they do not believe a policy will work.
"It is possible to make a good idea fail and, frankly, it is possible to make bad ideas succeed. You've proven that time and again in rescuing the government from its own mistakes.
"Perhaps you should stop doing that. It only encourages the crazy schemes when you find a way to make them work."
Ahead of the conference, Mr Hobby said: "I think we should be a lot stronger in saying 'look, you haven't given us enough time, this is not well thought through' and ask the government to go back to the drawing board."
One example is universal free dinners for infants, which Mr Hobby said was a good idea in principle, but had many implications in practice that were not considered.
"I think some of the major exam reforms as well, not that they were wrong in principle, but to change them in the middle of the year, was not necessarily the right think to do," he said.
"And I think there are many ways school leaders can respond to these without being obstructionist.
"If the government changes a league table measure, you don't have to jump and change your curriculum in response to that, you can carry on doing what you were going to do anyway."
Mr Hobby also warned that a future government could face more legal challenges from the education profession if there is concern over policy. Schools brought a legal challenge against Ofqual and exam boards over changes to GCSE English grade boundaries in 2013.
"If you don't move the system forward on consensus and bring a certain level of buy-in, you're almost inviting a more adversarial approach to that. So if people don't feel that the methods of consultation offered to them are appropriate, then legal challenge is the only route that you leave them."
An Ofsted spokesman said: "Inspectors are interested in the impact of the school on outcomes for its pupils. We do not have a preferred teaching style.
"We have gone to considerable lengths to dispel some of the myths about what Ofsted expects when we inspect schools. We have made clear, in our clarification document, that it is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits rather than by reference to the inspection handbook.
"More than half of our inspection teams now include a serving practitioner, and we expect this proportion to rise later this year when we introduce the biggest changes to the way Ofsted inspects schools in more than 20 years.
"We urge headteachers not to think in terms of how they can get a favourable Ofsted judgment but rather what they need to do to ensure that every child in their school gets a decent education."