Having read http://themagicof535.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/inspector.html I thought I might post my own experiences of OFSTED in the hope that it enlighten that blogger as to why OFSTED (or at least how some schools react to OFSTED) is harmful and pernicious.
I have been through 6 OFSTEDs. I will give a brief description of each one following some general observations.
- Almost every stupid policy I have had inflicted on me has been brought in with OFSTED in mind.
- Impending OFSTED makes peoples (especially SLTs) brains dribble out of their ears in my experience
- All considerations regarding practicality, workload and staff morale go out of the window when OFSTED are due
- People start putting more effort into showing they are doing a good job than actually doing one.
- Monitoring goes through the roof
- Interminable and increasingly pointless meetings become more frequent.
- Practices that had been acceptable before suddenly aren’t any more.
- Things nobody cared about before are suddenly vital
- Fingers start being pointed when things have gone wrong or targets not been met. The buck starts getting passed as people increasingly desperately try to prove that it isn’t their fault. This often means establishing that it IS other peoples fault.
I was a supply teacher teaching a mixture of Maths, Biology and Physics. It was my 3rd week in the school. In my first two weeks in the school I had sent for SLT in almost every lesson with two of my classes and waited 15-20 minutes for them to arrive. No support was forthcoming from my Heads of Dept. On some occasions this meant standing between fighting pupils for 15-20 minutes. Obviously little work happened during that time.
I was observed twice. My lessons were both satisfactory. Both lessons were with the classes I had to send for SLT repeatedly with. In both lessons the pupils listened fairly well, worked fairly well and learned something. In the context of the school, my teaching and the classes this was nothing short of miraculous. The feedback I was given was that the lessons were too dry, too teacher led and not engaging enough. I was advised to make the lessons more kinaesthetic and activity based. When I tried that it made the behavior and learning significantly worse.
Outcome- OFSTED highlighted serious weaknesses in management, behavior, attainment and teaching and learning. Notice to improve.
I arrived at the school at the beginning of January. OFSTED were due in 3 weeks. The school had no systems in place. SLT were in a panic. The results were dreadful and everyone knew it.They were sending out constant and often contradictory policies and directions in the build up to OFSTED. They were also applying a lot of pressure to teachers and middle leaders that they thought weren’t very good. This largely seemed to entail randomly wandering into lessons, disrupting the learning by talking to the teacher or to pupils and then moaning about some aspect of the lesson that did not conform to some tick list I had never seen. They stopped doing that to me when I threatened to leave if it happened again. Their judgement of who was not very good wasn’t great. They didn’t put any pressure at all on the bloke who wandered the school informing everyone what the cricket scores were when he should have been teaching which was particularly bad because the guy taught PE. He once left pupils unsupervised when they were doing javelin to chat about cricket in the staff room.
My department had no schemes of work, no assessment policy or data tracking in place and pretty terrible results. The HOD went on sick leave for stress the day before the inspection started and came back 3 months later.
The behavior in the school was insane. One lesson the year 11 pupils that were doing PE set the fire alarm off and then threw eggs at the staff and pupils as they emerged from the building. None of the culprits were excluded. Rather unsurprisingly this happened twice more while I was there. The staffroom overlooked the playing field and at the end of the field was what was known as “the bullying tree”.
When OFSTED came there was only one full time, permanent member of staff in the department. There was a part time teacher too. Everyone else was either supply or off on stress.
I was observed 3 times. The inspector was a maths teacher. He was quite pleasant and gave useful feedback. My lessons were satisfactory, good and good.
At the end of the inspection SLT put £1000 behind the bar of a local pub for us because the school did not get a notice to improve or put into special measures.
The school was a good school with good results. Pretty much everything about the school was good. For reasons that escape me SLT decided the school was outstanding. Everyone was observed in the run up to OFSTED. Everyone whose lesson was not outstanding had to go to a series of training sessions.Every HOD whose results were not deemed outstanding was threatened with capability.
I tried to follow all the directions given in the training sessions for how to be outstanding. It made the amount of learning happening in my lessons go into a sharp decline. This was apparently my fault for not doing it properly. I pointed the decline out to SLT and asked whether they would rather that I teach normally and have a good lesson or try to follow their recommendations and have an awful one when OFSTED were in. The response was “Just do what you’ve been told to do”. So I did…
My lessons were both satisfactory. The school was satisfactory with good features. I remain convinced that had they just left everyone alone it would have been good or better.
The results were pretty dire. The behavior was dreadful. The head was largely absent due to conferences, media commitments and health reasons. The SLT was so large they couldn’t meet in the HTs office any more. A more autocratic, dysfunctional, self-serving collection of brown nosers will never been found if you looked from now until the end of time.
Interestingly SLT did not apply huge pressure because they were convinced the inspection would go fairly well. A mocksted, a bit of ranting but not much more than that. Mind you the relationship between SLT and non-brown-nosing staff wasso attritional I’m not sure how they could have ramped up the pressure by much.
They did try every trick in the book to make sure everything ran smoothly. Most of the worst BESD pupils were on trips, at college or otherwise engaged. One pupil spent the entire 4 days tidying and cataloguing the Maths storeroom. Several teachers that were deemed not good enough were “ill”.
At the time I was hugely unpopular with SLT despite having good results because they disapproved of my teaching style, the way I managed behavior, the fact I openly thought they were completely useless and help them in contempt and the way I asked them questions they couldn’t answer whenever presented with the latest ridiculous faddish whole school policy. I remember that we had a big drive to improve punctuality, manners and pupils having the correct equipment. We were informed by a very proud member of SLT that this had “worked”. I asked why so many pupils were late, rude and turning up without equipment if it had worked. I didn’t get an answer. This among many similar incidents was one of the reasons for my enduring unpopularity with SLT which meant I had been observed to death pre-OFSTED as part of my capability. I was pleasantly surprised when the inspector was impressed with both my lessons. The only critical things she said to me were about departmental policies and choice of modules. The thing she said that interested me was that it would be fine for my normal lessons to be like that but if I want outstanding lessons I need to improve my “observation technique”.
Outcome for the school:
Same school as OFSTED 4. This time the pressure preceding OFSTED was insane for most staff. there were meetings all the time, observations all the time, work scrutinies and learning walks seemed to be happening on a daily basis. People deemed not good enough were shouted at like naughty children.
After I refused to participate in Mocksted 3 and went through the disciplinary that resulted from that I decided to make talking to me as unpleasant an experience for SLT as I could without doing anything resulting in a disciplinary. I discovered that difficult as I was for them when I wasn’t trying to be I was ten times more difficult when I tried to be. As a result I was almost completely left alone in the run up to OFSTED. I was not observed, learning walks bypassed my room and they didn’t take in my books for book scrutinies. The one exception to this was to do with my role as Numeracy co-ordinator. Bizarrely given the fact SLT did not like or rate me they had put me in charge of improving cross curricular numeracy in the school. The previous OFSTED had specifically criticised it’s absence. I had to meet the second most useless senior leader I have ever encountered (to fully describe how useless she was would require it’s own blogpost. She’s a headteacher now of course 🙂 ) on a regular basis to explain what I was doing. While this was irritating it was nothing like the sort of pressure other people were getting.
I was observed once. My lesson was good. I agreed with the rating and the feedback.
OFSTED said the teaching was good and everything else was satisfactory.
It had been 7 years since the last OFSTED and that meant we had been gearing up for OFSTED for 3 years. It seemed endless. Observations, scrutinies, learning walks, INSET and generating the most enormous pile of paper the world has ever seen. I asked the head if the plan was to make the school so full of “evidence” that the inspectors would not be able to get through the front door.
The atmosphere was tense and difficult and got more so over the three years. This was largely because the school had been outstanding last time and wanted outstanding again. The problem was that the goalsposts had changed. The school had not. Practices and results that were previously outstanding weren’t any more.
SLT kept training us in “the party line” which we were supposed to tell OFSTED. It mostly consisted of slogans like “x% of teaching is good or better” which did not reflect reality and made me think of Stalin’s minister of agriculture.
Middle leaders were in endless meetings being told they and their departments weren’t good enough, that the results weren’t good enough etc etc. The atmosphere in the school was toxic and morale never lower.
The school was good in the end. The inspector said it could not be rated any higher because the results were good last year. The school argued that the next years results were going to be better but to no avail.
More staff left after the OFSTED than left in my 5 years in the school (including me).
We had Mocksteds in the run up to several of these OFSTEDs.
Mocksted 1 was before OFSTED 2.
Mocksted 2 was before OFSTED 4 and Mocksted 3 was before OFSTED 5