No-notice Ofsted inspections? Why teaching will suffer

Introducing no-notice Ofsted school inspections will merely serve to drive up teacher workload, warns Yvonne Williams

Election 2019: Plans for no-notice Ofsted inspections will only serve to increase teacher workload, says Yvonne Williams

With the prospect of no-notice school inspections, teachers and leaders face living in the equivalent of an occupied country, colonised by curriculum and inspection “experts” as well as assessment strategists.

Far too many time- and effort-consuming functions are already thrust upon teachers. Now even more Janus-faced than ever, they will teach their classes with one eye on the students and the other on the phantom inspectors who could drop in at any time. 

Data-gathering, already excessive, will become routinely urgent, to ensure that it’s fully up to date when inspectors call. “Every lesson counts” – and this will take an unbearable toll on overstretched teachers.

Subject leaders now on the frontline will be colour-coding all kinds of intent and implementation documents to within an inch of their lives, and referencing data to prove that each and every interaction promotes incredible impact. 

Data and teacher workload

In fact, the only real impact this obsessive recording makes is to drive down teacher motivation and drive up stressful workload. These Sisyphean efforts may make a difference to an inspection grade. But they won’t advance learning one jot. 

The trouble with an over-assertive and omnipresent inspection regime is that its needs have to be fulfilled before those of the pupils in the classroom. All too often, teaching is all about performance: learning got left in the lurch a long time ago. Performance management is the name of the game. 

An extortionate premium is placed on visible outcomes, often artificially manufactured by placing tests at set points in the academic year, rather than at suitable points in the learning cycle – just to ensure that more spreadsheet columns are filled.

It’s very hard to see who will benefit, unless it’s former inspectors selling their experience to help desperate school leaders second-guess Ofsted, and carrying out the now discredited “mocksteds”

Ofsted changes 'create an arms race'

Every time Ofsted changes its school inspection framework, it’s like an arms race. This time around, there’s money to be made out of off-the-peg models that will satisfy even the greatest depths of the inspectors’ dives into the curriculum

Sadly, with no-notice inspections constantly at the school gate, there will be no time for the really important debates about the most suitable curriculum for the context of each school.

The space to experiment and reconfigure, the time to set up and nurture best practice – and, most importantly, the time to reflect and evaluate on the long-term learning journeys – all has to be redirected to the paperwork front.

It’s a problem on both sides of the inspection divide. In an unusually democratic style, Ofsted consulted on its new approach. It set out its new rules very clearly, to avoid appearing to have a secret agenda. But it neglected to put in place the vital training needed to ensure that subject experts were inspection-ready in September. 

Adverts for trainers with recent experience and respected expertise, who could train inspectors, only recently went out. The implication is that inspectors may be out of touch and out of date with the very thing at the forefront of their role: the evaluation of content and pedagogy.

Fuel for electioneering

The attempts of chief inspector Amanda Spielman and her advisers to deepen engagement with content and teaching will be subsumed by the melee of frantic inspection activity. 

Inspection will go off half-cocked, to satisfy the political appetite for “rigour” to “drive up standards” and to produce higher numbers of "good" and "outstanding" schools. "Good" and "outstanding" at what, though? Paperwork and monitoring activity, the ability to say what the inspectorate wants to hear?

While desperate, out-of-touch politicians put a colourful spin on their soundbites, teachers and leaders fume at the loss of opportunity to genuinely improve lives. 

What price subject expertise, ground-breaking research and continuous professional development, when the education system is mere administrative fuel for vacuous electioneering?

Yvonne Williams is head of English and drama at a school in the South of England

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