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How to overcome your fear of Ofsted

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It’s easy to blame the inspectorate for every problem that surfaces. It’s also unsurprising, given that teachers are occasionally asked to embark on seemingly unnecessary tasks and told it’s “because of Ofsted”.

The regulator is a handy scapegoat and often inaccurately cited. In reality, it’s not out to get us. But what can practitioners do to help their institution succeed under the new inspection framework? Here are some areas to tackle:

Student focus

As much as Ofsted notionally provides support for educational organisations to improve, it exists to ensure that students are getting the quality of education they are entitled to. Let’s be very clear: Ofsted advocates for students, not teachers.

Once we come to terms with this fact, we have the option of being empowered by Ofsted, instead of terrified by it.

The common inspection framework is not an arbitrary set of tricks designed to catch us out, even if some organisations misinterpret it as just that. The framework is devised as a checklist to run parallel with the quality of teaching, personal development, leadership and management that we hope we’re already providing.

We all want to be brilliant at our jobs, so let’s move away from asking ourselves if the session, teacher or organisation is “Ofsted outstanding”. Instead, let’s concentrate on getting on with all the things that we already know constitute excellent practice, regardless of inspection.

Money worries

Will colleges not be disadvantaged by the financial pressures they are under?

The lack of funding in FE could have an impact on quality and that may affect the grade. This should be a surprise to no one. If there’s not enough money to support teachers to do their jobs properly, their jobs won’t be done properly.

Forty students in a class working at three different levels with one teacher is not ideal. It’s unrealistic to think that in those circumstances quality wouldn’t be affected. Ofsted has a responsibility to acknowledge that context, but not to make allowances for it.

As much as colleges are doing an excellent job in striving to reinvent themselves, to create efficiencies and scrabble for cash from other sources to make ends meet, they are at the beginning of that journey.

Colleges are trying to create a new kind of organisation but must acknowledge that success is rarely instant when new organisational models are explored.

English and maths

The increased focus on English and maths provision is especially relevant in the context of expanded classes, fewer teachers and unrealistic goals. But low GCSE results do not automatically mean poor results in an Ofsted inspection. There will be a line of enquiry about baseline assessments and questions on whether a lack of progress is to do with the quality of teaching.

Inspectors will look at maths and English, but in the context of skills development and considering the development of English and maths within a study programme.

If the issue is not so much about the funding for smaller classes, and more about the challenges of recruiting appropriately skilled maths and English teachers to support growing numbers of students, those challenges should be discussed with the inspector.

This is an edited version of an article in the 13 November edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full version of this story here

Read the full coverage of  in this week's TES magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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