Consider the following:
We all feel our stress levels rise when an OFSTED inspection is looming. An expectation to do the ‘impossible’ job of teaching to a consistent outstanding level. During the small pocket of inspection time which we think verifies our hard work and commitment since the last inspection, we wait anxiously in our classroom for an inspector to walk in and make a judgement.
If it goes well, you have the privilege of telling everybody for the next 5 years that you are a ‘grade 1 OFSTED inspected teacher’ who doesn’t really believe that OFSTED grades are important even though you like reminding everybody of your grade (an approach I hope that nobody would take). If it doesn’t go well you can be left with a sense of failure or may even feel like you let down the school and colleagues.
Is it really worth the stress and anguish over an inspection which observes approximately 0.01% of our teaching since the last inspection? This is where experienced colleagues who have been through previous inspections are pivotal in supporting others. OFSTED observations are similar to rolling a ball in a casino; we need the inspectors to land in the right slot at the best part of the lesson. Wise and experienced colleagues would tell you to take the observation with ‘a pinch of salt’ as your grade relies more on luck than ability to teach. Outstanding teaching cannot be consistently applied to every lesson and it is not sustainable to maintain it during the whole of the lesson. If we did have outstanding for the whole lesson, outstanding would become the norm and then nothing would ‘stand out’.
Lessons are complex and often require a mix of passive, active and reflective learning. Some academics would argue that active and reflective learning demonstrates a deeper understanding. Active and reflective activities may become the outstanding ‘eureka’ moments in the lesson where progress is demonstrated. Some inspectors may not view passive learning as deep learning, however, giving instructions and the collection of basic facts are an essential part of the taxonomy process and need to take place. It is difficult and almost impossible to have numerous ‘eureka’ moments of outstanding learning in a lesson and it is even harder to pause that special moment so that the inspector can witness it when s/he walks into your lesson.
We suspect that OFSTED know the judgement they are going to give before they arrive at the school. In an era of self-evaluation and league tables, a school knows their own level of performance before the inspection takes place. Inspectors will struggle to adjust a school’s grade which has been self-evaluated with the support of statistical evidence. Does this add even more bias to the inspectors’ judgements?
So how can a school prepare staff for an inspection? Is it neccessary that colleagues get stressed before an inspection? Does being stressed show that you care and want to get it right? It probably does but stress, anxiety and sleepless nights will only result in under-performance in the classroom. So can a school put teachers at ease and protect the welfare of staff before an inspection?
10 things that can help colleagues before an OFSTED observation
- Tell staff to relax – this is your chance to celebrate the hard work, commitment and success since the last inspection. You have nothing to fear; the school respects you as a teacher and an inspector will give you the same level of respect.
- Look your best – you wouldn’t invite a person to your house for dinner without tidying up and dressing smartly. Teachers need honest feedback on their classroom, displays and appearance before the inspection. You never know, you may achieve an outstanding by wooing your inspector with the ‘Lynx effect’.
- We are focussing on a collective outstanding so don’t focus on an individual outstanding – outstanding teachers don’t believe that they are perfect. They recognise that they make mistakes and use them to improve their teaching. Not everybody will achieve outstanding in an inspection. You are relying on the inspector observing the outstanding parts of your teaching, so you are relying on them dropping in at that ‘magic moment’. It you don’t achieve outstanding, it doesn’t matter. A school is a team of teachers. The important thing is that we support each other during the inspection to maximise the chance of achieving the highest collective grade possible.
- Is there any additional support that can be given to staff before the inspection? Schools cannot perform miracles and offer unreasonable requests like massages during dinner and a free bar after school. However, it’s the small things in life that make the biggest difference. Coffee and tea at break, pre-ordered lunches or additional reprographic/admin support are all things that can help teachers to prepare and reduce their stress.
- Does everything work in your class and do you have all the resources you need? Check with staff to ensure that everything is working and maintained in their classrooms. IT equipment that is not working or broken blinds that allow to sun to put a glare on the whiteboard can create serious barriers to learning. Equipment that fails on the day can’t be prevented but a quick response from the support teams is essential.
- Praise, share praise and publicly share praise – find any excuse to praise staff. Share the praise with the individual and praise them in public. Not only will this motivate the individual, it is also using them as a role model which will hopefully influence others to follow their example.
- Different subjects and specialisms should be advised to have evidence to support specialist decisions within their subject – as a computer scientist, I would find it difficult to challenge decisions made in a PE lesson if they had a subject specialist rationale behind their decisions. An inspector could be a specialist in a different subject or may not even come from a teaching background. Teachers should be advised to have their rationale explicit in lesson plans or they need to be ready to support any unjust judgments from a non-specialist.
- We all have a life – be aware of anybody who needs additional support during the inspection. Sleepless nights from a new baby, caring for sick relatives or important family commitments are just some of the reasons that can make an inspection difficult. A school that is aware of these issues can offer additional support to colleagues.
- Support staff if they challenge a judgement or feel that they have been treated unfairly – who inspects the inspector? If they are solely observing then the only feedback they can get on the ability to inspect is from you. I am not saying that inspectors don’t make correct judgements but they are human like everybody else and can get it wrong. If a colleague has been genuinely misjudged or treated in an unfair way then they should be offered the full support of the school to challenge the judgement. If inspectors are never challenged, inadequate inspectors will never be regulated and other teachers will inherit their inadequate inspection methods .
- Arrange a party – I was proud of a family who had the GCSE results party for their children after the last exam instead of on results day. The philosophy was that their child had tried their best and the grade was irrelevant. Hard-working staff deserve a treat at the end of an inspection whatever the outcome.
The fact that teachers need a holiday and time to recover after an inspection indicates that the intensity and expectation from OFSTED is unsustainable. We all deserve to walk away from an inspection feeling like we played our part in the team’s success.
To summarise, nobody remembers the individual grade 1 teachers after an inspection, only the grade 1 team of teachers. The wise teacher understands that the only true measure of outstanding is effort. All teachers who prepare, teach and support others to the best of their ability can walk away from an inspection with their ‘head held high’.Inspections are about preparing together, teaching together and celebrating our collective grade together. Unity is strength.