Since starting work at my current school just over two years ago an OfSTED inspection has hung over the the place like the sword of Damocles. It was always there. Wafting above us waiting to fall. After Christmas, we knew it had to come this term, the sword appeared to grow heavier; the horse hair holding it appeared thinner. Phrases like “when they come…” and “OfSTED will expect…” littered the language of the headteacher. Much of the CPD over the last year had been focused on improving teaching and learning. This is sometimes called: What to say and do when an OfSTED inspector walks into your lesson. Just like the sword of Damocles, OfSTED created a sense of fear in which the staff worked.
In the last week of March this year the sword fell. We got the call. They were coming.
On the morning of the inspection two rather gentle looking ladies arrived and greeted the staff with smiles and promised “an opportunity for us to work together to ensure the school is on track to move forward”. All very friendly. In a pre-inspection email to staff the headteacher had closed with the line: Do not trust them. Doesn’t sound like she bought into the whole “opportunity for us to work together idea” being offered by our colleagues from OfSTED.
The next two days were something of a blur. A fuzzy mess of lesson observations, impromptu meetings, meetings cancelled, demands for data, hysterical teachers who were judged as satisfactory, hysterical teachers who were judged as outstanding, the crackle of walkie talkies announcing where an inspector would appear next. On the Thursday evening the verdict was in.
Now, you may have detected in what I have written above something of a cynical tone. You’d be right.The inspection process hangs there to create a sense of threat. Too often it is used by some school leaders to create a culture of accountability when in fact it creates a culture of fear. A sense of impending doom that for some staff is too much. To a certain extent it has become the reason for some schools existence. Or should that be survival? A battle to beat the inspector. Far too much time is spent getting schooling right for when the inspectors call. Too often training and meetings focus on getting things in place that OfSTED would like to see such as making sure that staff know precisely the criteria for OfSTED’s lesson gradings. If I am advised one more time by somebody to insert a mini-plenary into my lessons as soon as inspector walks in I’ll stab them through the heart with a chisel tipped whiteboard pen!
OfSTED has hijacked the ways schools are now managed and lead. It takes a very brave leader to ensure that their staff prioritise the needs of the people that matter: the students and parents of the communities they serve.