An OFSTED inspection causes various forms of panic in every member of staff in the school.
From the moment they get the call, the Head must think their job is on the line. I’ve seen enough panic stricken faces to know that it’s not a moment of relief.
The Head has to have to have a SEF ready to send off and the inspection process starts:
The Senior Leadership Team start to predict inspection trails. Lists of how good staff are are made available. Data is scoured for the best possible way to present it. Catering is organised for the inspection team, as is a room. Timetables are printed off. The pupils get an assembly telling them to behave themselves. Some more unscrupulous Heads might make a few phone calls to ensure the worst behaved kids aren’t at school. The best parents are contacted and urged to fill in parentview, the online proforma. Staff briefing is called. Staff are asked to fill in a survey. The Head might put fear of God into them to ensure they don’t tell the truth in the survey (if there are bad things to say), and hence return it like everything is positive. Staff stay at school until midnight marking books and over-planning lessons. Phone calls are made as Mummy or Daddy can’t make bathtime. They stay awake at night, possibly waking up to tweak their plan or on occasions to cry with the pressure.
Then the inspectors rock up between 7.30am and 8am. The carpark is full at that time when it never is otherwise. Most people are in when the school buildings opened at 6am. Worksheets are being run off, data sheets for each class are being checked. Staff are tweaking seating plans and hoping to God they don’t come to Year 9 during period 5. A list goes up in the staff room. All contact with inspectors, and all feedback to be logged here. It’s not clear why, but maybe in case there’s something for the Head to challenge HMI on if they can later.
The inspection team are introduced to staff. They try to be human, but everyone knows they could close the school, or downgrade it. All staff want this over, through fear for the school, the kids or themselves, but it’s just starting. The inspection team say the right things. No-one believes them. Everyone is stressed. No-one laughs at the Head’s joke, few even get it.
The inspection starts. Assemblies are the best ever delivered, with an inspector watching. Some registrations are seen. The lead inspector meets with the Head. It was supposed to last half an hour, but it went on for an hour. What does that mean? The other three are in lessons. All the staff who are free are on corridors, making sure that all pupils are on time and everyone is dealt with quickly. Three Heads of Faculty are observed, 30 minutes each, with senior staff, then they head over to observe three Maths lessons. Rumours spread about what their plan is. Are Maths in trouble? Why Maths? Do you think the Head of MFL cracked up?
Period 2. The Lead inspector has metaphorically torn up the plan given to her by the Head on behalf of the Leadership Team. The data meeting will be now and the data manager and Assistant Head in charge of progress KS4 is called. The meeting will be an hour and the Lead Inspector has called in one of the other inspectors. They are the inspections data expert. Rumours spread that it doesn’t matter what lessons are like, they’ve already decided the outcome. Two inspectors are over in PE and one of them has had a ten minute chat with Frederick, the little shit in Year 8 who is bound to have told them that it’s not normally like this.
Breaktime. The inspectors have tea, coffee, and amazing sandwiches, but they’re in the corridors. They’re talking to Jon, the maverick ITA. Shit. What does that mean. One inspector is seen peering at litter. Another has seen about the only display that is out of date and one is asking many staff what the Child Protection procedures are. He’s then going to check the SCR. When he has to explain to one member of staff that that stands for the single central register, the member of staff thinks they’ve single handedly failed the inspection.
Period 3. The kids scarper into lessons quicker than ever. Some people have got feedback. One was a Good and she’s the best teacher in the school. We’re all fucked. At least this period they’re seeing an AHT. They want to see the Head of Maths and the line manager (Deputy Head) of Maths in a meeting period 5. They’re also meeting with Heads of Faculty as a group. They’ve arranged a meeting with 6 random kids – not the kids who have been coached by the Head of Year. Shit, Fred’s on there. That’s during lunchtime as well. Fred will want to play football. He’s never going to perform for us.
Period 4. Apparently one of the joint lesson obs this morning was a Good and that was Sylvie, the doddery Head of Faculty. She’s not had a good for ages. Everyone wants that inspector, seems easy. Meanwhile the one that claims he taught in schools like these and know kids like these is turning out to be a real shit with feedback. The feedback is blunt. They said they weren’t going to give it until the end of the day or maybe at lunch. How are people getting feedback already? One of the inspectors trails lessons period 4 – goes into 15. FIFTEEN LESSONS! Some people say he’s looking for bad behaviour, others to check Learning Objectives are on the board. Really, he’s seeing what proportion have pupils sat in groups.
Lunch. Some people breathe. Others don’t, and tweak their plans or update their marking (with a different coloured pen). The Head of Maths pours over the stock answers given by the Deputy Head who line manages her. Anyone who hasn’t got feedback goes to get it, except the PE department who still run their clubs. The Science teacher says she got an outstanding, but that can’t be right. She must be lying. Have we any way to check if she is lying?
Period 5. This might be going ok. There’s a lot of interviews going on and only one inspector on the loose. Three DT lessons and a music lesson. 15 minutes in each. We were entitled to feedback if the lessons were 15-20 minutes or more. Are we entitled to feedback for these lessons? The Head has been in three meetings and has requested an extra one with the Lead Inspector, as there have been complaints from staff of a bullying or hectoring style from the one inspector.
After school. Some feedback to staff. By 4pm the inspection team are locked in their room. At 5pm, the Lead Inspector meets the Head. Their working hypothesis is Requires Improvement – a 3. This is down from a 2 last time, and is because they haven’t seen good enough teaching to show that the predicted improvements in progress over the next few years will happen. The Head is down, but meets SMT. They then fire off an email to all staff telling them lessons have to be even better tomorrow or the school is in trouble.
Staff work past midnight. School closes at 1am (the Head shutting up) and reopens at 5am. The carpark is full when the inspection team arrives. The Lead inspector is first in, and immediately requests to see the Head. On reflection overnight, they’ve decided this might be a 4 -serious weaknesses. The HMI has to take into account that the school is underachieving compared to national, and the behaviour data is worrying. There have been three parental complaints and Fred, the articulate boy in Year 9, or was it Year 8, or Year 10, anyway, he has reported how bad behaviour is rarely challenged and other students, asked in lessons have agreed. And the quality of teaching is not good enough to sustain progress. So the Head is invited to draw up a list of places the inspectors might see enough outstanding practice to challenge this.
The Head draws up a list of the best teachers. Then gives it to the HMI. She also fires off emails to these staff telling them they’ll DEFINITELY be observed and that the whole future of the school rests on them. This is not taken that well by those staff, one of whom is found crying in the toilets. One person yesterday was caught with their books not marked for 8 days, and when marked the kids hadn’t responded. The inspector said that was inadequate. What if something similar happens?
The Year Heads are told to go and get good kids and give them a positive message (eg about after school clubs, or community service, or their levels in Maths) and press gang the inspectors with these messages. They do. The second day siege mentality is a little like the first day, and the tension is palpable.
Period 1: They’ve gone and seen Maths teachers again. For the FULL HOUR. And there was no movement on any inspectors faces. They must be preparing to deliver bad news. Are we going to have jobs? We don’t like the Head, but we’d prefer she was there than no-one. They had a good look through all the books in the class. ALL OF THEM – including for other classes. They took away the data sheets. And during period 2 they want ANOTHER meeting with the data manager and the Headteacher. We’re really fucked.
Period 2: Meeting with the data manager and Head lasts twenty minutes. Two questions. The data manager is a bit surprised they didn’t pry more. The Head is shocked. And they spend all the rest of period 2 in English, except they don’t see the one Outstanding teacher the Head identified.
Break: The inspectors don’t have a break. Two stand in the playground talking to kids, one by the tuck shop and one by the toilets. They’re looking for poor behaviour.
Period 3: All inspectors have been told to find any incidents they can of poor behaviour. Almost every class in the school is visited, some just for moments as the door is opened and closed. The second in charge of Spanish is caught out as she says to the kids “thank god he’s gone” about an inspector who is crouched down and still in the room. The inspector smirks. She doesn’t know what this means.
Period 4: One last Headteacher meeting with an additional inspector to clarify something about SEN. Two remaining observations (one of those, but only one was on the Head’s list was seen).
Lunch: Feedback to teachers. It hasn’t been a bad day. Surely we got a 3.
Period 5: Inspectors lock themselves in their room.
4pm-5.30pm Inspectors deliberate. The Head and Deputy watch on. They only interject factually twice, while the inspectors use the OFSTED framework forensically, debating whether the word “vast” in front of majority fits so they can award this category or that category.
6pm The school got a Requires Improvement. It nearly got a Good, but for a couple of loose conversations and some insecure data. Targets seem fair. Overall, the Head is relieved. She will probably keep her job and get 2 years to sort it. Most of the staff are down the pub, so the AHT with the most personality goes down to relay the outcome.
Next day: A few hangovers, and a lot of video/ worksheet lessons
Weekend: A lot of staff have no weekend as they catch up with sleep
The next week: SMT turn the pressure up on staff to ensure kids make 6 levels of progress in 2 weeks, behaviour deteriorates as everyone is exhausted and they’re taking a break and coasting to recharge. Lessons are a bit shit, but understandably. This lasts a month.
The school is far worse off because of the OFSTED inspection.
The maddening thing is, in the face of this, most SMTs think the best thing a school can do for an OFSTED inspection is carry out a MOCKSTED inspection that seeks to replicate the real thing, exhaust staff and piss them off, and cause untold misery, lack of progress and problems for the kids and the school.
And it costs thousands.
I have no way of proving this, but I firmly believe that a MOCKSTED is more likely to make the real experience substantially worse. An OFSTED is a horrific thing to go through, but everyone is on the same side, and know they have to go through it, usually about once every 2.5-3 years. A MOCKSTED is handed to the staff by SMT and breeds resentment to SMT.