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Inside the mind of an Ofsted inspector

How many Ofsted inspectors does it take to change a lightbulb? None. The lightbulb must change itself, otherwise it will be failed.

It's an old gag, but it illustrates just how unhelpful teachers can find the Ofsted process. Not only do teachers have to cope with the stress of someone sat in their classroom marking them, but they can also be left afterwards with too little idea of what the inspector wanted to see.

A lot of double-guessing has taken place as schools have tried to figure out what the ideal Ofsted-approved lesson should look like. Staff can feel under pressure to produce an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular, with whizzy use of resources designed to meet a dizzying range of learning styles.

For that reason, we asked a series of Ofsted inspectors what they really liked to witness in lessons, beyond the bland official criteria (pages 4- 7). Some of their answers were more surprising than others. The general advice seems to be: teachers should use the teaching style that is natural for them, and that they find works, rather than thinking they need to show off. The inspectors did not even seem to mind if lessons drift off plan, if there is a reason for it.

That reflects a message that Ofsted has been trying to promote for several years - that it really does not want to restrict the way teachers work, and that they should not feel they need to stifle their own individuality or creativity to fit a template.

Yet what Ofsted itself says does not always translate into what its contractors do when they arrive at the school gate, as we have seen in the past when inspectors have tried to mark schools down for such trivial reasons as offering them tea before checking their IDs.

For that reason, a working knowledge of what inspectors officially need to look for in lessons, and what good inspectors like to see, will hopefully be handy. If teachers feel they have been unfairly rated, they should challenge it - and when they do that they deserve all the ammunition they can get.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw

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