This week’s Secret Teacher, who works at a secondary school in the Midlands, asks if Ofsted inspections are really fit for purpose. Here are some extracts from the Guardian…
During the last academic year, we knew we were due a visit from Ofsted– or as I like to call them, the Death Eaters – for the next academic year. Previous hits had occurred in the spring term, so much time was spent trying to predict when they would arrive. Eventually they came in December.
What provoked their early arrival? The English GCSE results, of course. What had caused a slump in the percentage achieving A*-C grades? The massive shift in the marking boundaries. How did Ofsted interpret this? English teaching was just not good enough, so that is what they came to find evidence for. To quote Mark Twain’s now cliched phrase: “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.”
Two important players for the school, our new headteacher and head of faculty for English, had both started in September. They had been in the job for only 11 weeks when the temperature reduced and the Death Eaters floated into the school’s grounds. You can’t help but wonder what Ofsted was expecting of these people, given their length of tenure?
Our previous headteacher was very fond of his office, so much so, that the pupils barely knew who he was. He retired last year. During his last 12 months, he did attend some training on the new Ofsted framework , which resulted in one twilight training session of a hastily put together PowerPoint telling us it was: “All about the teaching and learning.” Precious little else was done to prepare the staff for the new framework, not least how actually to improve our teaching and learning.
So, what happened when Ofsted did come? Well, the Titanic hit the iceberg. Under the new framework, lessons were judged as being just not good enough. Too many, mine included, were labelled as “requires improvement”. This label was also given to the observed lessons of well established teachers who previously had been judged as “good” or “outstanding”. There were precious few good or outstanding lessons observed this time. There were other areas where we were found wanting, but we had done well in areas such as behaviour.
Many of our parents were very supportive during the hit-and-run visit. The majority of answers to the parent questionnaire were very much in support of the school. Overall, we were awarded a grade four: serious weaknesses. Were it not for the tenacity, intelligence and veracity of our new headteacher, we may have been placed in special measures.
Our new headteacher did not have enough time to turn the Titanic away from the iceberg. Fortunately, her crew are grateful that we are at least in much safer hands now and that she can help to bale out the water that sunk us, allowing us to bob up to the surface once more.
The school has been placed in the serious weaknesses bracket to pull us up by the bootstraps. But what is the impact of over-stretched and over-stressed teachers on their pupils? Is this going to improve the learning occurring at school? Is this raising standards for them and helping them achieve better? Does working in a fearful environment enable or empower teachers to improve their practice? Is this blunt, brutal stick really working?
Is it really too much to ask that we are trusted to just get on with the job in hand, that we might, after all, know what we are doing? Can we once again find the joy in what we do without staring behind us, nervous of the swoop of the Death Eaters?
So what’s your take on this piece? It sounds an extremely stressful time for all involved, but does the account not also suggest there were substantial issues from the time of previous head that needed to be resolved? For example, the staff had received no guidance on the new framework. Doesn’t this show the flaw in trusting the school “to just get on with the job” as the writer suggests – what happens when they don’t? And maybe the new head would have even welcomed an inspection so early to set a benchmark and show subsequent progress? Please let us know what you think via twitter or in the comments…