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  • Writer's pictureTom Hopkins-Burke

The Weekly Review on Teachers Talk Radio: 10 March 2024

Missed the Teachers Talk Radio Weekly Review - the show where we review the week in education? Catch up with the headlines and the discussion here...


It has been an extraordinarily busy news week in education this week, and settling on three stories to review was a tougher task than usual. This Sunday, our panel of Paul Hazzard, Maxine Howells and Kathryn Taylor were quizzed by host Lucy Neuburger. Up for discussion was Gillian Keegan's boxing credentials, Ofsted's Big Listen (but not on single-word judgements), and the 'Wild West' complaints system wreaking havoc for school leaders.

The Teachers Talk Radio panel of Lucy Neuburger, Paul Hazzard, Maxine Howells and Kathryn Taylor


Education Secretary Gillian Keegan

"She may have wanted to show empathy with headteachers, but she got it totally wrong" Maxine Howells on the Weekly Review

This week's Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference featured contributions from Ofsted HMCI Sir Martyn Oliver, Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson, and outgoing General Secretary Geoff Barton. But it was Gillian Keegan who hogged the headlines during a question-and-answer event.

(Video credit PoliticsJOE)

Referring to an Ofsted inspection of a school in her constituency, Keegan told a bemused audience that:

"...they told me how their Ofsted experience had gone. I was shocked, I was actually shocked. I thought, 'God, if I'd met these people, I'd have probably punched them.' They were really rude." Gillian Keegan at the ASCL annual conference this week

Matt Newman, national officer at the FDA union (representing inspectors) said Keegan's comments were "completely unacceptable":

"For a minister to suggest that it is acceptable to assault inspectors is irresponsible and dangerous. It will only serve to undermine the credibility of the inspection process." Matt Newman, national officer, FDA union

Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson was equally critical:

“This is sadly another example of the way in which Gillian Keegan has demeaned her office as secretary of state. And to do so in front of an audience of school leaders – many of whom are themselves Ofsted inspectors, and take that responsibility very seriously – is frankly pathetic." Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Education Secretary

Our audience shared their thoughts, too...

What did our panel make of the latest findings?

Paul Hazzard

"The language we use is really important... language portrays mindset, it tells you what people's attitudes are. [Keegan's comments] are concerning. We look at things like the Nolan Principles and the standards in public life... Keegan is definitely gaffe-prone, but I think she's conflicted personally and professionally. She said that as a quip to be popular in a room full of leaders."

Maxine Howells

"We're trying to put ourselves into Keegan's head as she said this unfortunate comment. Was she trying to fit in with the school leaders? I don't know any headteacher who would have said what [Keegan] said. To suggest use of violence when you hold such an important post as Education Secretary is so unfortunate. She may have wanted to show empathy with headteachers, but she got it totally wrong."

Kathryn Taylor

"I was thinking about John Stuart Mill and freedom of speech... [Keegan] was really unwise. I can see she was trying to use humour, but it was a private quippy comment in a very public forum."


What's it like being an Ofsted inspector? We found out what it's like to work for the inspectorate...

Ofsted HMI Dan Lambert

Shaniqua Edwards-Hayde is joined by Ofsted inspector Dan Lambert to discuss life working for the inspectorate and visiting schools.


The Ofsted 'Big Listen' graphic

"I'd like to understand more about how the questionnaire was formulated. Is it going to get the depth and rigour? Does it ask the questions people want to answer?" Kathryn Taylor on the Weekly Review

Ofsted has launched a 'Big Listen' consultation, seeking views across its work across the education sector - but has been criticised for 'leading' questions, poor methodology and ignoring the issue of single-word judgements.

While one-word judgements can only be changed by ministers, educators have lamented the omission as part of an extensive questionnaire targeted at the education sector as a whole:

When questioned on this omission, Rory Gribbell, Director of Strategy and Engagement at Ofsted, said:

"There's a question on reporting in each of the sections, asking 'what we can improve'. I'm expecting many people will want to give their views on our approach to overall grades there. [Sir Martyn] spoke at ASCL and outlined a change we're making to how we present grades on our website." Rory Gribbell, Ofsted

Commenting on the launch of the consultation, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT, said:

"The new Chief Inspector has the opportunity to become part of the solution if he is willing not only to listen but also to act to support the work of schools in providing the high quality education that children deserve... but in our most recent National Teacher Poll, Ofsted was cited as the number one driver of excessive workload for classroom teachers" Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT

The Education Select Committee has previously called for an end to single-word Ofsted judgements this year as part of a wider report., stating that the inspectorate needed to work with the Department for Ecucation to find an alternative. Ofsted is understood to have responded to its recommendations, with publication of these to come soon.

What did our panel have to say on the 'Big Listen'?

Kathryn Taylor

"The Big Listen is an important piece of work, but I'd like to know more about the methodology. How are people's thoughts going to be captured? It's complicated, and methodology needs to be rigorous. I'd like to understand more about how the questionnaire was formulated. Is it going to get the depth and rigour? Does it ask the questions people want to answer?"

Maxine Howells

"Consultation is a really interesting concept. It's totally possible to listen and then to not follow anything that was suggested. It get that not everything can be done by committee where decisions are being made on our behalf. But I do just know that not much of this consultation could turn into action."

Paul Hazzard

"Fair enough to Sir Martyn Oliver. He's a former teacher and a former leader. It's a good start, but the Big Listen is a gimmicky concept - in some ways, it's better than nothing. But if I were Sir Martyn, I'd be in the corridors rather than sending out questionnaires, and I'd be tackling the one-word judgements. That's a problem in itself."


Ofsted reform: what could work?

An Ofsted inspector writing notes on a clipboard

Tom Rogers was joined by three guests to discuss Ofsted reform this time last year:

  • Kate Barry, an English teacher in Ireland, discussing her experience of inspection in Ireland

  • Martin Hanbury, a recently resigned Ofsted inspector, sharing his unique insight into the inspection process in England and how he thinks it should be changed

  • Jennifer Chung, sharing her research findings from Finland about inspection there


Tes: 8 in 10 school leaders see rise in 'vexatious' complaints

A clipboard with the word 'Complaint' at the top

"If you complain on social media about a teacher, all you're saying is 'look at me!'" Paul Hazzard on the Weekly Review

A Tes exclusive investigation has found that a rise in 'vexatious' complaints towards schools is creating an 'unmanageable' drain on resources.

In a survey by the NAHT school leaders' union, 94 per cent reported an increase in parent complaints over the past three years, with 83 per cent saying that there had been a rise in 'vexatious' complaints.

In addition, Ofsted data shows that there has been a 65 per cent increase in complaints from secondary school parents to the inspectorate since 2019.

The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) has called for the DfE to make urgent changes to support schools in coping with the increase in parental complaints, commenting that the volume of complaints "will have an impact on our ability to retain our leaders".

On the question of why there had been such a growth in complaints, the NAHT found that:

  • 57 per cent of leaders referred to unmet SEND provision as a reason;

  • 35 per cent cited attendance and holidays;

  • 34 per cent pointed to complaints about the conduct of other parents.

Parents wishing to complain about a school can submit their grievance to numerous agencies, including:

  • The DfE

  • The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

  • Ofsted

  • The Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA)

  • Their local Member of Parliament

  • Local media

What did our panelists have to say on complaints to schools?

Maxine Howells

"This isn't a shock at all. I think back to my time as a head - complaints are a huge pressure. There are very many causes: [from] the media narrative about schools, [to] WhatsApp groups that work people into a frenzy of discontent. Parents go to Ofsted, they go to the local authority, they go to the press. This has a big impact on school leaders and affects their ability to run schools properly."

Kathryn Taylor

"I don't like the word 'vexatious' - it means harassing and falsehoods. There's going to be a lot of people who are just really frustrated with legitimate complaints. So many complaints are about SEND provision, the disaggregation of services around schools, the feeling that no-one is listening to you."

Paul Hazzard

"Complaints are atrocious for morale, retention and teachers moving up into SLT. It's really stressful on teachers who are poorly protected. A little bit of education around a comment, a concern and a complaint would be useful. If you complain on social media about a teacher, all you're saying is 'look at me!'."


What is the right level of school-parent interaction?

A teacher interacting with two parents and a small child on the father's shoulders

On Education Tonight, Brent Poland and Adam Spence explore the relationship between schools and parents. What's the right balance? What's the right level of interaction and access between home and school? What lines could or should schools draw?


Want to listen to the discussion in full? Catch up with the full show, plus a message from our sponsors John Catt Educational, here. Use the code JCTTR2324 for 20% off at - happy reading!

A graphic for our sponsors John Catt: educational publishers since 1959.

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