Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ofsted - An Inspector's Smalls

My school is awaiting an imminent Ofsted inspection. They have been spotted in the local vicinity and rumours are afoot of when they are going to visit. The problem is with all this Ofsted talk is it gets in the way and spoils teachers, teaching, and, learning. Ironically, the whole purpose of Ofsted is to monitor and improve standards, yet I think it has a far damning effect than improving standards. Like Father Christmas, Ofsted has a list and they are ticking off who has been naughty and who has been nice. Some good child, I mean teacher, will have a lovely reward of ‘Outstanding’ present this year, but another naughty teacher will have to ‘improve’ for next Christmas. Which list you are on plays on everyone’s mind?
I am sitting, pacing, walking about the classroom, worrying about the imminent arrival. Will we be on the naughty list? Or, will we be on the nice list?

"Some lesson activities occupy students and keep them busy, but are not well designed to develop their understanding."
I have no doubts about my school being an excellent school. I don’t think I would have stayed here so long, if it wasn’t. However, Ofsted monitor schools based on a snapshot on teaching and masses and oodles of data that most people would struggle to understand. Ofsted don’t judge the ‘heart and soul of a school’. My daughters’ school had an Ofsted visit and it received a judgement of ‘requires improvement’, yet I would argue that I could not find another school that has been so accommodating to my daughters and Mya’s cerebral palsy. My daughters enjoy learning, reading and they feel safe and secure. Plus, the staff are so ‘on the ball’, helpful and supportive that I cannot write this effectively down in words. This week, for example, the school secretary visited a local child minder to help some students walk to school as the usual school path was treacherous because of a large amount of ice. Now, this sort of thing isn’t picked up by this group of inspectors. They don’t see the time and effort invested in the small tiny things that aren’t always measurable, that aren’t always visible, and that aren’t always seen by most people.

"Make learning even better by giving students time in lessons to read and respond to the comments that teachers write on their work."

Sadly, this primary school came out as requiring improvement. One of the things the team picked up was the fact that some of the work wasn’t ‘neat’. I’m sorry but real learning isn’t neat, isn’t always quantifiable and isn’t always visible or known. It just happens. Evidence and accountability are words used in business and that are best suited to business, not education. How can a person be held accountable when a teenager is being grumpy and having an off day? Now, I do feel teachers should be held accountable in part for some of the learning, but we have to factor in the student into any conversation. We are dealing with human beings. Not simple statistics.

"Some students find learning tasks too difficult, and some find them too easy."
 I think one of the main problems with Ofsted is the cloak and dagger approach to inspections. What are they looking for? What do they like to see in lessons? What do they hate to see? The reports are transparent, but I don’t always think that educational ideologies they are based on are clear. I feel, sadly, that the teaching profession is a rudderless ship on a strange and bizarre course. Every so often you have a customs check for contraband that changes on a weekly basis. Where is the drive to improve teaching? Where are the people steering education? No wonder Gove is streering the ship all over the place, when there hasn’t been much of a consistent approach beforehand. He knows that education needs some steering. Unfortunately, he has the wrong map. Fortunately, some teachers have got hold of the rudder and are directing things – and I include Twitter friends and fellow bloggers.

"Students in many lessons are seen working with great enthusiasm and at an excellent pace because of the well-structured opportunities to ‘find out’ for themselves."


Some may argue that Ofsted are quite clear about what they are assessing as they provide a framework for grading. However, I beg to differ. Take the recent GCSE fiasco, for example. The grading criteria wasn’t changed and kept the same throughout the whole fiasco; it was just the boundaries that changed. We, teachers, don’t know what the boundaries are. Are there too many Cs? Are there too many good schools? Looking at the recent Ofsted reports printed on line, there are a large number that are coming out as being ‘requires improvement’. There seems, in my opinion, to be very few goods and outstanding schools. Some days I have struggled to find one. Are we looking at a repeat of the summer, but with Ofsted reports? Are people acting tough on schools with the onus on showing that they are committed to raising standards?

What I’d like to see is Ofsted leading the way, showing by example what they expect to see. I am like most in the profession: I work hard and I am happy to improve and change, provided I am guided. Ofsted will rate my teaching, yet they haven’t in my whole time in my teaching career emailed me, contacted me or advised me in any form or manner how I should teach. They have printed reports and they have written a few papers. Where is the guidance for me to attain an ‘outstanding grading’ in my teaching? I could buy books. Schools could pay an inspector to visit. But, where is the ‘top-down’ guidance of what makes an outstanding teacher? Where are the examples? Where are the demonstrations? Where are the resources? Where are the ideas? Show us the way and I think a lot would follow. Spell out the solutions rather than leaving teachers and staff scrambling for the ideas and the solutions. Instead we have whispers of what they were looking for at another school.

The quotes throughout this blog are taken from various reports from Ofsted. I am hoping they may give us an insight into what they are currently looking for. The recent reports are where I am currently looking for guidance on what is best for 'Literacy Across the Curriculum'. I have my ideas established and I am just checking to see if they are supported by Ofsted.  I don't teach for Ofsted; I teach for the students, but the problem is they get in the way. If I felt they were supporting me and the profession, I would relax. But, sadly, I am not always sure who or what they are supporting.  Do they have a political agenda? Do they have a remit to follow? Again, another area where transparency is needed. 

Tell you what - let’s have a system for monitoring politicians. Let’s keep them on their toes. What fun to be had? I am sorry, Mr Gove, but you have no sense of engagement with you audience. You seem to be pitching your ideas to much older students. Much older. In fact, those born in the 1850s. Also, you don’t seem to be differentiating that much for others in your constituency.

Sorry, Mr Gove, you ‘require improvement’.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. The views held here are my own and do not reflect those hold by any establishment I might know, work in, or visited for a nice sandwich.  
For those that have read my blog before,  you'll know that Gwen and I work together on our blogs. I thought I'd ask her views on Ofsted, given that 'An Inspector Call[ed]' recently:
Over the years, I have given the ‘Ofsted’ inspectors the name of ‘The Deatheaters’. The use of a nickname is to render absurd the foreboding presence of an inspection and give some humour to the paranoia and panic that surrounds us when an inspection is imminent.
At my school, we have known we are due for an inspection this academic year throughout most of the previous one. However, it was always far enough away to blank out, and get on with the job at hand. As our two previous inspections were deemed ‘Satisfactory’  and the more recent inspection showing some elements of ‘Good’ within the school, we knew we HAD to get a 'Good' or the dreaded 'Special Measures' could be a consequence.
We began September with a newly appointed head teacher and an immense sense of pressure due to the aforementioned NEED to get a ‘Good’ combined with the consequences of the GCSE English fiasco, where blame was aimed squarely at the classroom teacher. It is easy enough to play the rules of the game, as long as you know what the rules are. Goal posts shifted seismically, pupils suffered and so did our results, making us look like we are ‘failing’ our pupils. As a consequence, I began in September in a high state of anxiety, to the extent I have needed medication to help me control it and the over bearing pressure, I know, has made me a less effective practitioner in the classroom. Ay, there’s the rub.
We had ‘the call’ last week,Tuesday PM. I very nearly had a panic attack. My pulse quickened; I felt queasy. I sweated. I nearly cried. I was already exhausted and running on fumes. That evening I planned my lessons as best I could, arrived at work at 7am to get super prepped and got ready, mentally, as best I could.
Period 1, Year 7 the Deputy and the English inspector walk in. My pulse quickens, but I can ‘act’ fine. The lesson I had planned was similar to what they normally do, as we have been told time and time again the Deatheaters are looking for ‘typicality’, but a few tweaks were made so it was more Ofsted friendly, or so I thought. In fact, I ‘require improvement’ as it turns out. When you have a stranger in your classroom for twenty minutes, knowing that they can pass judgement on you and your professionalism, how, just HOW can you perform well? I couldn’t. I contained my disappointment until the end of the day Friday before sobbing in the car for a good ten minutes. I then drove home in a haze of exhaustion.
As my now, much more astute and friendly HoF put it: our results our low, therefore we can’t POSSIBLY have ‘Outstanding’ teachers in our department. The data says so. I am teaching ‘The Crucible’ to my Year 13 this year, and being on the thick end of this data led Ofsted inspection system, to us it felt very much like a witch hunt. How is this method going to improve standards in education? How will it improve teaching and learning? I am stumped.
What has made us, as a staff, more angry is the lack of action by the previous head teacher, who sat on his egotistical laurels, while he drifted towards retirement. Having spent a term with our new Head, we know we have a great captain to steer our ship, but will Ofsted recognise it? Will the subsequent processes be fair enough to let us avoid the fatal iceberg? Can we cope with the oppressive pressure that this inspection will generate? Will it make us better? We have roughly 7 – 9 months before our next inspection. We shall see.


  1. I actually went one better than Gwen and cried ON an inspector on being told I required improvement(or very nearly - if he'd moved his knee just one inch, he'd have got a wet patch on it).

  2. Gwen, your last ht sat in his office for the 10 years he was there and failed the school over and over


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