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Don’t look, don’t look!

Senior teacher Rob Dyson* says his last Ofsted inspection remains a “trauma”. Drinking tea in the staff room of the academy in the north of England after the inspector left, having delivered the verdict that the school had plummeted from “outstanding” to “requires improvement”, he says everyone was “ashen faced”. Noticing that the deputy head had turned a “terrible colour” and looked unwell, Dyson ushered him into the toilets.

“He started having a heart attack right there in front of me,” Dyson recalls. “It was absolutely shocking.”

Dyson got home that evening, after his colleague had gone to hospital in an ambulance, and took the dog for a walk. “I stood on the riverbank and I was just looking at that river. I had this awful sense of injustice. Our school was warm and friendly; it was absolutely bubbling,” he says. “But I snapped out of it and came home.”

He explains that this sort of “horrible” rating isn’t just crushing for the leadership team – it also sends the school into a downward spiral. “Your funding falls because parents don’t want to send their kids to you, and the staff you need to get you out of this hole start leaving,” he says.

The school looked into appealing the rating, but Dyson says although they felt they had a strong case, “the legal costs were just too punitive”.

Andrew Morrish, a former headteacher who co-founded Headrest, a helpline for heads in crisis, during the pandemic, says the pressure and fear surrounding Ofsted inspections has become “entirely too much”.

Apparently checking on how the bureaucracy is spending the money is something that just shouldn’t;t happen. Fork overthe cash and ignore the efficacy being the mantra.

18 thoughts on “Don’t look, don’t look!”

  1. If he’d had the heart attack in the toilets on Sports Day, would this chap be clamouring to cancel all future sports days, I wonder?

    And don’t some schools rack up unsuitable ratings time after time without teachers dropping like flies?

  2. Having dealt with Ofsted (in Further Education) for many years, I realised that the heads and managers who did well out of the process were the crooks who gamed the system. A difficult group or student who you don’t want the inspector to see? No problem – arrange for them to be on a trip out, or change the timetable so the inspector has to see someone else in order to hit their own targets, or arrange for them to have the statutory box-ticking talk on health, radicalisation, or safeguarding, delivered by an external speaker. You get credit for offering it, but can’t be penalised for the quality of delivery. Or just make sure that the troublesome student happens to be receiving 1:1 counselling or guidance when their otherwise OK class is being inspected. Or that marvellous old standby: use an INSET day to get every teacher to prepare some brilliant lessons which they keep in reserve for the “big day”.

    I got my own card marked during an inspection when one “emerging issue” was possible over-grading of teaching staff in our internal quality monitoring processes. Well, it happens, of course, and it leads to senior management and Quality Assurance bods being marked down as they don’t know what’s going on in their organisation. So on day 2 of the observation I was asked by the CEO to forge a lesson observation record, marking one of my excellent lecturers down a notch. I refused. He’d earned that top grade. Being sacked a couple of months later was painful, but I can at least hold my head high…

  3. We should stop expecting accountability from our education professionals, because it’s bad for their health and safety.

  4. When I was a governor, at the start of an inspection we’d say: yes, we do not have “a daily religious assembly”, and yes we have abolished RE lessons, and got the initial ticking off out of the way.

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    When Ofsted first started Mrs BiND was still teaching and it was quite stressful because nobody knew what to expect and from what I observed a lot of schools and teachers were chaotic and some order as needed eg pupil records kept up to date, lesson plans created/updated.

    To be fair it didn’t help that the scope and contents of the national curriculum were a moveable feast, what started out as just being the 3Rs spread in to every subject and it was all new to the whole profession.

    That was getting for 30 years ago so I don’t understand why this crop of heads and teachers don’t just see it as a part of life as they’ve grown up with both, it really shouldn’t be that stressful.

  6. Independent assessment and accountability are a threat to the progressive agenda in education; therefore it must be stopped by any means necessary. OFSTED certainly isn’t perfect, but they’re terrified of it.

    Never forget that it’s the Teachers Unions and the Education Establishment, what Michael Gove called ‘The Blob’, who have consistently opposed discipline, uniforms and examinations in schools.

  7. Are these people really so lacking in insight that they are surprised by the marks given by Ofsted?
    As any fule know, children have a rough idea of their likely mark in a test. So why don’t adults?

  8. As like many of you, we did ISO9001. My boss at one site was quite worried about it.
    I had to explain “how to do it” having been through it a few times.
    Anyone slightly dodgy, wayward, loose cannony ( me included ) was to be out of the office. Invent a client, go for a booze up, anything.
    In effect the only ones who should be in the office were the accounts and HR people and maybe a coached salesman or techie.
    Bit trickier with a school admittedly, but watching The Happiest Days of Your Life with Alastair Sim should give a headmaster a few ideas.

  9. I remember the old-fashioned system of visits by school inspectors. In my final year our English class was inspected. The teacher stepped out of the room and, somewhat to my surprise, the inspector made a beeline for me and engaged me in conversation. Something I said annoyed him so much that he became agitated, turned bright red and prepared, it seemed, to assault me. Luckily the teacher came back, saw the problem, and led him away to calm him down.

    All I’d said was that I thought that lit crit consisted of chaps who can’t write chattering about chaps who can. He should have complimented me on my little aphorism rather than losing his temper.

  10. It seems Ofsted (and the similar CQC) inspections are very similar to ISO9001 (in it’s early days, I hear it’s improved somewhat) – a purely bureaucratic box-ticking exercise in which it hardly matters what you do, as long as you record it in great detail and have a complete set of records available for inspection.

    Dilbert covered this rather well ~30 years ago 🙂

  11. As a Management Systems Auditor (predominantly ISO27001 but I do ISO9001 if I really have to) I understand it has changed since the early days.

    I think of my audits as 1 to 4 day conversations and out of them comes a report. It shouldn’t be a grilling or a tick box exercise . The standards are written in such a broad way that companies can approach them in whatever way they like as long as the requirements are satisfied.

    I’m more interested in why a company does what it does than how it does it and I want evidence that the process is followed, whatever that process is.

    I was recently audited myself by UKAS, the UK’s standards authority and they were very complimentary so I must be doing something right.

    The better companies welcome an audit, the feedback and constructive criticism because they want to do better.

    It does help that I had 8 years of engineering, 20 years IT and about 4 years Information Security experience in the field before becoming an auditor.

    I can’t imagine that a school inspection is that much different. What the school is trying to achieve should be set out and the inspection criteria.

    If a school has gone from Outstanding to Needs Improvement it might mean that the requirements have advanced and the school hasn’t kept up or that they have got complacent and really could do better.

    Either way, it shows they are not doing the best they could for their students and they should be embracing the wake up call rather than taking it as personal criticism.

    But this is the educational blob we are talking about.

  12. A school we know well was just marked down because the primary school sections sex ed was insufficiently pornographic.

    Teachers might not like the checks.

    The power associated with checking invites fanatics who will abuse that power.

    No easy answer

  13. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    “Those who can, do.
    Those who can’t, teach.
    Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.
    And those who can’t teach teachers become OFSTED inspectors. ”

    With apologies to the long-lost friend who took a PGCE longer ago than I care to remember.

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