Ofsted Watch - You don't have to fall in line for inspectors

If you don't fear Ofsted, it can't hurt you. Take control of the situation and make sure you tell the real story of your school
21st November 2014, 12:00am
George Shipp


Ofsted Watch - You don't have to fall in line for inspectors


In my time as a headteacher, whenever I have mentioned Ofsted in the company of other professionals the mood has suddenly changed. People become visibly tense; a look of horror passes over their faces and, in some cases, even a slight tremble of trepidation. The word induces a palpable fear, the kind you rarely encounter in schools.

But why is this the case? It's not as if Ofsted is an unknown quantity or makes a habit of wild swings in attitude, stance or protocol. Changes are communicated well in advance and the requirements are relatively stable.

And we can all expect to get the same treatment from the inspectorate. Most of us already know what the experience is like and sometimes we even know when to start expecting the dreaded phone call.

As for suddenly having observers wandering the corridors, schools should be permanently ready to receive visitors, whether those visitors are inspectors or not. Schools are more open than ever and observations are commonplace: we should have no issue with strangers being shown around or even taking notes as we teach.

Whatever a school's starting point is, we all know that we should be providing the very best education we can for the children in our care. In my experience, most of us do this really, really well. So when that phone call comes, why do so many sane individuals disintegrate into quivering wrecks? Surely we should be able to take control of the situation.

I have had the pleasure of five inspections as a headteacher. My school is in an area of high deprivation, so data always is and always will be an issue. But I don't think I have ever had a problem with Ofsted. Why? Because I have controlled every single one of the inspections. I have complained, cried, laughed and cajoled - all to ensure that the inspection team understood my school's situation and wrote the appropriate report. I have not hidden myself away or taken a step back. Instead, I have tried to influence Ofsted's impressions.

There have been times when I've felt that an area has been under- or over-analysed; times when I have agreed with the inspectors and times when I haven't; times when they have found issues and times when they have missed things. I've acted in the interests of the school every time, pushing the inspectors to see what I see: a great school working in difficult circumstances.

This control extends to analysis of the inspection after the event. If schools engage in rigorous evaluation of every area, they should not be surprised by negative feedback. Rather than slinking off, muttering and complaining, we should take criticism on the chin, stand proud and explain how we will continue to improve. We should take charge of that fallout period. We have to acknowledge the role that Ofsted has to play and our role in relation to it.

Those of us who recognise Ofsted's failings can still work with the body. Don't think for one minute that I agree with the present arrangements. I don't, but I have no power to change them. Instead, I have my say with the inspectors, leaving them in no doubt about where I believe the strengths and weaknesses of the school lie. Being timid or scared or subservient is ineffective and unproductive.

So perhaps Ofsted's failings are, in fact, our failings, in that we have not got to grips with the training needed to prepare for, manage and move on from an inspection. We don't have to like inspections - in fact, let's continue to loathe them even once we have received the judgements - but we have to learn to manage them better. We need to take control in order to get the reports we deserve.

George Shipp is a pseudonym. He is a headteacher in the South of England

Five ways to take charge of an inspection

1 When talking to the inspectors, keep your school's story in mind and relate everything back to that story. Emphasise the context of their judgements at every opportunity.

2 Make sure all the children are aware of the inspection and their role within it - they too need to understand why the school does what it does.

3 Ask staff to teach as they normally would and not to put on a show. Don't pander to the inspectors; be confident and be who you are.

4 Make yourself available for the whole inspection period. Cancel anything that would stop you from being a constant and visible presence in school.

5 Don't fear the inspectors. If you do, it will affect how you approach the inspection and prevent you from making your case effectively.

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