Sue Gray VS OFSTED: How Serious Are The Consequences For Those Concerned?

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has had her say on Boris Johnson and released a report giving her general findings into alleged parties and gatherings at Number 10 and across Whitehall. So what will the consequences of this review be, particularly for the PM? And how do reports of this magnitude, and the potential fall-out from them, compare with those in the education sector which come about through OFSTED-led inspection? If the stakes are high for schools and school leaders, surely they are higher still for those behind the famous black door of No 10? Errm, you’d be surprised...

As someone who works in the field of education, I, like most teachers and school leaders, know that a school inspection is a very serious affair. We understand the need for public accountability. Parents, politicians and the wider public want to be sure that schools are doing their very best for the children they serve.

Having served almost two decades in the profession, and over half of that time in leadership positions, I’ve come to realise that the consequences for individuals working in schools that receive a negative or challenging inspection report can be very significant indeed. Rarely do outcomes lead to increased training and support for individuals at or near the top of the school heirarchy – instead people are moved on: they announce their wish to spend more time with the family, resign citing “personal reasons” or are shamed through a very public sacking.

So what of an inspection of sorts into the workings of Number 10 and the role of the Prime Minister? In response to allegations of illegal gatherings and parties inside Number 10 and Whitehall, senior civil servant Sue Gray was tasked with investigating the facts and producing a report.

OFSTED reports tend to be the final word. In any normal political climate, the Sue Gray report should be a final word on those allegations involving the PM. As Nesrine Malik points out, writing in the Guardian, it is not short on statements that should condemn the Prime Minister, confirming the facts that have been out in the public domain for weeks now. Twelve parties – all but four of those that took place – are under criminal investigation. One of those, and this is not a passing detail, took place in the Prime Minister’s own flat. While the rest of the country was negotiating the fine technicalities of what constitutes a breach of the rules, in some instances pondering whether to sit on a bench in the park or not, these parties seem to suggest that No 10 and civil service staff, under the eye of the Prime Minister, believed they were exempt.

But this is not a normal political climate. It is one where Johnson and the Conservative party, even with their popularity severely diminished, have a large majority, no clear successor, and a grace period before the next election: if reports and conclusions can be spaced out far enough, and with fatigue and a heave-ho from the rightwing press, all this can be drowned by time.

Nesrine Malik, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/31/sue-gray-report-no-10-boris-johnson

With the recent publication of the Sue Gray report it has been fascinating to pull out some of the key statements and compare and contrast them to similarly-themed findings from recent OFSTED inspection reports. What follows is a look at the consequences for the PM against the consequences for school leaders when one considers the types of finding that appear in both the Sue Gray report and OFSTED reports. The analysis suggests that consequences for school leaders are heavy (it is not disputed that such consequence(s) should indeed be serious), and the consequences for the Prime Minister are potentially minimal.

NB I’ve deliberately not referenced the OFSTED reports: I choose not to further highlight the public spotlight these reports have shone on individual schools, school leaders and teachers… but everything here was publicly available to find and read….

Uncovering ineffective leadership

Finding from Sue Gray report: “There were failures of leadership and judgment…”

Outcome: Prime Minister remains operative in post.

Finding from OFSTED: “the school is inadequate in areas of effectiveness of leadership and management…”

Outcome: Headteacher and Associate Headteacher leave the school on publication of the OFSTED report. A new Executive Headteacher is appointed.

Verdict: OFSTED criticism of leadership results in job losses for education leaders; Sue Gray’s criticism of leadership does not result in a job loss for the Prime Minister.

Sue Gray 0

Not upholding the expected standards

Finding from Sue Gray report: “…represent a serious failure to observe [not just] the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government…”

Outcome: Prime Minister remains operative in post. This is on the back of previous allegations of falling short of expected standards, including breaking the law by proroguing Parliament; and attempting to change rules to protect friend Owen Paterson MP when he was found to have breached them.

Finding from OFSTED: “The report criticised teachers and school leaders, including its governors, for failing to uphold a good standard of education.

Outcome: On publication of the OFSTED report, the Headteacher announced that she was leaving the school in a letter to parents, with two interim heads appointed until a replacement is found.

Verdict: Seemingly it is very possible for a Prime Minister to continually fall short of standards, and can even seek to alter the standards to suit their own position, with little recourse. When a school leader falls short, the price is their job.

Sue Gray 0

Time for a spot of wine and cheese

Low staff morale and confidence

Finding from Sue Gray report: “Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so…”

Outcome: Prime Minister remains operative in post.

Finding from OFSTED: “…operational and strategic barriers have given rise to extremely low staff morale and a “lack of confidence” in the leadership of the school...”

Outcome: Headteacher leaves post; local authority instigate an immediate action plan to improve the school.

Verdict: School inspection reports have more serious consequences for the school leaders than the Sue Gray report does for the Prime Minister.

Sue Gray 0

Lessons must be learned from this

Finding from Sue Gray report: “There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately…”

Outcome: Prime Minister remains operative in post.

Finding from OFSTED: School placed into special measures. Local authority launches a “learning review.”

Outcome: Chair of Governors resigns. Headteacher suspended pending outcome of learning review.

Verdict: Wherever there are lessons to be learned, Prime Ministers can seemingly remain in place and are given opportunity to review and implement changes; those entrusted with school leadership and management are not trusted to do so when reports into their schools make similar recommendations. Once again, the consequences of a difficult report appear more severe for the individual receiving an OFSTED review than the individual receiving the Sue Gray update.

Sue Gray 0

Bringing in the Met Police

Finding from Sue Gray report: “The Metropolitan Police has now confirmed that as a result of information provided by the Cabinet Office investigation team, as well as assessments made by Metropolitan Police officers, they are investigating the events on the dates set out above…”

Outcome: The findings from the Sue Gray investigation have been handed over to the Met Police; Met Police will be investigating. Number 10 remains operational; Prime Minister remains operative in post.

Finding from OFSTED: We can confirm that we inspected the nursery on 10 January following a risk assessment. We have since suspended the nursery’s registration and are working closely with other agencies.

Outcome: The findings from the OFSTED inspection have been handed over to the Met Police; Met Police will be investigating. A Met Police spokesman said: ‘Officers from the North West Public Protection Unit were contacted by the local authority on Monday after concerns were raised to them around the conduct of staff towards children at a nursery…”

The nursery has been closed permanently with immediate effect. No staff members remain in post.

Verdict: OFSTED bringing in the Met is more serious for education leaders than it is for Sue Gray brining in the Met for Prime Ministers.

Ofsted 5
Sue Gray 0

It seems utterly preposterous to think that in any other walk of life a CEO, leader or manager of any kind of organisation could remain in post following a damning independent report that finds failings of leadership; reports an inability to meet expected standards; uncovers low staff confidence and morale; and recommends that serious learning ought to be made with immediate effect. It is even more incredulous to imagine a CEO, leader or manager in any other walk of life remaining in position at a time the Police were investigating goings-on in their organisation on their watch – especially if such investigations potentially involved that CEO, leader or manager!

And so it is the case for school leaders when subject to independent inspection from OFSTED. It matters. There are consequences for the school. There are consequences for school leaders. It is pretty high stakes stuff.

And yet, for those entrusted with the highest office in the land, no such consequences appear to apply. This shambolic set of circumstances only underlines the very idea that the PM considers himself above the rules. The Sue Gray investigation was a professional job, and the report as damning as it could be in the face of a newly launched Met inquiry. But Sue Gray has nothing on the ruthless and consequence-rich reporting of OFSTED.


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