Induction isn’t quite what it used to be


Originally published by The Register.

An open letter to all HMI who supported my induction

Dear Former HMI

I am writing this open letter as a way of thanking those of you who supported, encouraged and challenged me during my induction period with the inspectorate. I didn’t realise at the time how effective it was and how it invaluable it was in enabling me to better understand the breadth and variety of education provision. Sadly, I now reflect on the gap between what I was fortunate to experience and what is currently offered to newly appointed HMI.

I was fortunate to be seconded for a year to Ofsted as a Headteacher in 1995 as part of the Associate Inspector (AI) programme and spent many days visiting small rural primary schools in Lancashire and Cumbria. It was a tough challenge, especially being away from home for much of the week, but I was fortunate to have four other Headteachers who were also being challenged by an HMI mentor who had high expectations. Our writing was initially not strong enough and our evidence too flaky, but we were quick and willing learners. I didn’t realise at the time what a privilege it was to be supported in this way. Having an HMI colleague who wanted me to do well, to succeed and someone who valued my experience.

I returned to headship after the secondment and was appointed as HMI in 2001. My expectation of the induction was that it would be similar to the secondment year. It was better! My appointed HMI mentor was keen to make sure I got a good understanding of the variety of provision Ofsted inspected and the differences that exist in different areas of the country. He constructed a range of HMI accompanied visits to secure units, prisons, an independent school (where I witnessed one of the most interesting and informative English lessons), a 6th Form College and a military establishment in Germany. I also recall sitting with experienced HMI at the ‘duty desk’ in London where we would sign off reports and take calls from inspectors during inspections. The work was important and at times pressing but there was time to discuss a range of education and non-education issues. The variety of experiences, and the time HMI gave for informal and formal discussions, widened my education perspective and increased my confidence in terms of how I should conduct myself. The induction included the right activities at the right time, and I am deeply grateful to my mentor and those who patiently supported me.

After 11 years with the inspectorate I was burnt out and exhausted. I eventually found myself working for the Co-op Group as the CEO of their growing sponsored academy trust. I was taking over from a Co-op colleague with little experience in leading education programmes but was a highly effective leader and a deeply committed co-operator. She was keen to quickly hand over the reins, but she couldn’t drive at the time, so I became her chauffeur as we visited each of the academies across the North of England. She explained the rich history and culture of the co-operative movement as well as the back story for each of the academies. We met senior Executives of the Co-op Group and I quickly felt part of their senior leadership team. As we met various colleagues, I was struck by how similar the induction she was providing was to the HMI one. An informed mentor who knew the culture of the organisation, was willing to give their time freely to support another colleague and did so with honesty and openness.

Currently, newly recruited HMI, do not receive such high quality induction. Access to a wide range of provision, the opportunity to meet many highly skilled and experienced HMI working in areas of work that are unfamiliar and the time to reflect and understand more deeply the culture of HMI have been lost. Induction is now a fast introduction to inspection with shadowing, teaming and then leading within the first few months covering around 12 days of specific training. Some regions do not even allocate a mentor. This is such a far cry from my experience. The impact appears clear in that HMI now stay on average just three years with the inspectorate, job satisfaction is severely reduced and the standing of the role within the profession has been diminished.

I was fortunate to be appointed as HMI when the role was highly valued and colleagues had time to help and support. It was a year-long experience under the tutelage of a high quality mentor. The mantra of ‘doing good as you go’ and ‘focus on the outcomes’ were central themes. Something has been lost between 2001 and now. It is time to reflect on this and acknowledge that the weaker induction has been very damaging and the inspectorate is the weaker for it. A new Chief Inspector is soon to be announced. If that colleague does not address the standing of HMI within the profession and improve induction we could see an even faster erosion of the role, so much so that someone may ask why continue with it?

I want to say thank you to the HMI who helped me along the way. You are many in number and I will forever be grateful.

Best wishes

Frank Norris
2001- 2012


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