Now, Ofsted aren’t exactly my favourite organisation in the world. I resent the hoop-jumping, second-guessing and desperate clambering that one of its visits entails. I resent having to put my lesson plans on to an actual piece of paper instead of tattooed on to my palm in biro because folk are worried that they might want to see some evidence of something (yes, yes, I know that that might not be "what Ofsted wants" but do you think my managers are going to risk me holding my sweaty ink-stained hand out to one of the inspectorate as evidence of planning? No, me neither.)
I resent the (in my experience) often arbitrary judgement and the things that inspectors miss that are glaringly obvious to anyone actually involved in a college for more than a few days (both good and bad.)
So when Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, states specifically – in a letter to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on what the inspectorate considers to be major risks to the country’s education – that FE is being underfunded in comparison to other sectors, and that that underfunding is having a direct negative effect on FE provision, I have to brace myself for an ice-cold bucket of cognitive dissonance.
Ofsted has been a consistent pain
How can it be that the boss of the bunch that have been a consistent pain in my overhead projector for the entire span of my teaching career has now taken up the bat and started swinging for the sector? This lot, who’ve consistently represented no end of grief for me professionally (whether directly or not, it doesn’t matter – the end result is still the same. I'm not letting them off the hook for that) are giving voice to the central problem that the sector is facing? In public documentation? I’m now waiting for cats to befriend dogs, rain to fall upwards, and group work to actually be a good use of time.
When a college is given recommendations by Ofsted, you damn well better believe that that’s where the focus will be until the next time they come knocking. Hopefully the recommendation from Spielman for an increase in base-rate funding for 16- to 18-year-olds during the next spending review will be taken up by the government as fervently, and we might see the advice become policy. When it comes right down to it, even though I still bear the scars of a mass brawl in the library where 24 members of staff tried to book the one available IT suite during the last inspection week because Ofsted "want to see tech an’ that", I’m not going to refuse support even if it is coming from places I don’t normally associate with being, well, supportive.
As much as it feels weird to type it, Spielman’s recommendation shows that Ofsted gets it.
I think it’s about time that everyone else got it, too.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England