Five ways Ofsted inspectors can make themselves useful

If Ofsted will insist on still coming into schools, we should at least put their inspectors to good use, says Stephen Petty
10th November 2020, 1:42pm


Five ways Ofsted inspectors can make themselves useful
Man In Suit, Holding Laptop, Looking Surprised

I think we are all agreed that school inspectors can normally play a valuable role in schools. If laid out across a classroom doorway or unfurled carefully along a windowsill, they make very good draught excluders.  

However, with ventilation in the classroom now so paramount - whatever Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman may think - this option is sadly no longer available. 

So everyone is now complaining about how pointless, time-wasting and burdensome inspections are going to be this year.  

Ofsted: the versatility of the average inspector

This is to unfairly underestimate the versatility of your average Ofsted inspector. Even if none of them wishes to follow their former leader Sir Michael Wilshaw and help out with covering the actual teaching during this crisis, there are several ways in which we can make use of them in school. Here are just a few: 

1. Door wafters

The inspector can still play a useful role at said classroom doorway. By standing there and silently moving the door back and forth, he or she will generate a welcome extra throughput of air. 

People have been performing such a supportive role for centuries. Many will picture classic Cecil B DeMille productions, set in some sweltering place abroad, where a regal figure is being cooled by a dutiful servant wielding an enormous fan.

With this in mind, we might also employ visiting inspectors as…

2. Favourites and flatterers  

In these bleak times I, for one, could do with having some obsequious royal favourite hovering a social distance away from me and paying me repeated compliments during the school day. 

My mother (once a primary teacher) recalls an inspector some decades ago telling her how beautiful she was, in his considered feedback on the lesson she had just taught. I think inspectors need to revive the flattery aspect of their training. 

Maybe they could deliver their sweet nothings to us while also wafting the door. The class would understand. 

3. Living-art installations   

With no school trips to galleries and museums possible at the moment, two or three visiting inspectors could help make amends by becoming their own human art exhibit.

In a tribute to Antony Gormley, for instance, they might each choose a different position on the school site, and just stand motionless all day.  

4. School-gate heavies   

Schools are obviously keen to cut back at the moment on the number of outsiders entering the site. A couple of inspectors, in their customary dark suits, could stand at the school gate and deter parents and others from proceeding any further. "Step forward any further, sunshine, and I'm afraid my friend here may have to, er, grade you." 

Speaking of which… 

5. Helpful graders  

Many schools are understandably focused now on frequent formal testing of their exam-year students, in case public exams don't happen and we need enough data to grade them all again.

With inspectors keen to assess and grade everything in a school, they would surely leap at the opportunity to join us with this extra marking? 

The role Ofsted still insists on playing

All such roles may be of minimal benefit, admittedly, but each one would be a relative godsend compared with the role Ofsted still insists on playing - that is, going into schools for meetings, report-writing to parents, publicly criticising schools for getting Covid safety wrong when we are simply following the guidelines, and - heavens - still holding out on full inspections next year.  

Most Ofsted people, including its head, can do so much better than this. They are much brighter and better than the tired collective body that they represent. 

So I would just hope that the best and boldest of them now speak out and do something to avoid Ofsted's emerging from this crisis looking so utterly out of touch from start to finish. (Remember, similarly, how Ofsted first marched into the Covid crisis by saying that they would continue to inspect schools where things were still "normal"?) 

Unless they are prepared to cover classes, help refill the hand-sanitisers and supervise children in their bubble areas, they should simply keep away. 

If they do not wish to help us on the frontline, then I think they should use this time instead to work out what they need to change, to become constructive and useful in the future. And they should move on from that compulsion to reduce everything they do in school to a series of headline grades. 

If, as they would claim, they are working on behalf of children and parents, then the single most important thing they can do is to think how they can reform in a way that gets teachers on their side. 

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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