'Nothing unites teachers and students quite like Ofsted'

You can feel the tension when the inspectors call – but Ofsted does bring people together, says Sarah Simons

Ofsted brings tension - but it also brings people together

There’s an unmistakable electricity in the college air when Ofsted comes to call – you can almost feel the tension prickle your skin. The first reaction is often a dark, group hysteria, the kind usually reserved for a beloved royal’s death or the introduction of a new IT system.

Mostly that gives way to the sunlight of clarity. Leaders rise from their reclining chairs, find their spotlight and unite with their peers in a single laser focus on one goal: doing well. And like many before us, our college was consumed with that. 

You know the well-worn teacher joke? 

Knock, Knock. 

Who’s there? 

Ofsted, I’ve come to observe your teaching. 

No, of course you don’t. Because THERE ISN’T ONE. Ofsted inspections aren’t filed under funny. Ever.


Quick read24 slides which set out Ofsted's plans

Need to know:  The new inspection framework

BackgroundWhy I am leaving teaching


We had Ofsted in last week. At one point, I knew the inspector was in the classroom next door. I adopted the brace position and prepared myself for impact, but the knock never came. 

Honestly, I wasn't particularly arsed in the run-up to the Ofsted inspection. Not that I wasn’t wholly invested in doing my best, I’d just got everything I needed to do done. It was just a case of waiting and seeing if my classroom door would be knocked on. 

While I tried to carry on as normal, my students knew we might get a visit. Ofsted hysteria grips everyone in the building, not just the staff. Even though they knew that the inspectors would be looking at my performance and not theirs, they still weren’t happy and said they would refuse.

Carry on as normal

I told them it doesn't work like that and they grudgingly backed down. Although the thought of them pointing at the door and booming "NO" to an inspector gave me a right old chuckle. On reflection, missing that spectacle was a bit disappointing for both of us. Nothing unites teachers and students like Ofsted.

Later in the week, I was talking to a colleague who did receive the knock and she spoke of a lovely inspector joining her session who made the experience as smooth and reassuring as it could possibly be. As we swapped notes about inspection memories from years gone by, she reminded me of a mutual colleague. He was a lovely bloke, family man, hardworking, who cared about the students and deserved every promotion he got, of which there were many. He went on to join the legion of Her Majesty’s Inspectors. 

There was one thing about him, however… He was really good-looking. I don’t mean, he was OK. I mean, he was A-list matinee idol, who-the-hell-is-that, can-I-eat-my-dinner-off-you-please handsome. While I can enjoy an aesthetic appreciation of a work of art, I can usually still function after having looked at it. It wasn’t the case for all my peers and his presence would sometimes leave them Jane Austened all over a fainting couch, in a fit of giggles, with their pants a-rattling. 

Ofsted: a necessary...event

An Ofsted inspection is a necessary ev… ev…. event. You have only to consider the value placed on Ofsted as a parent choosing a school to remember that they aren't the enemy. In fact, their presence can generate a real strength, a feeling of community. 

And at a time in history when things are more divided than ever, it makes me smile to think of the unity that a knock from Ofsted can bring. Who’d have thought that, in a nation torn asunder by politics, teams of professionals who care deeply about what they’re doing can bind together to do the very best they can

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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