Michael Wilshaw was clearly a fan of The Apprentice for a long time prior to his appointment as Ofsted chief; the similarities between the show’s format and his school inspection model are striking. Here are just a few of them.
- The phone call
You receive a phone call from a monotone stooge advising you to be at your most lucid and presentable within a ridiculously short period of time. Miraculously, you somehow manage to pull this off ─ unless, of course, you’re in “the boys’ team,” in which case you certainly won’t bother to have a shave. Ofsted’s finest will have marked staff presentation down before the morning bell rings.
- The jargon
Most of what little time you have to prepare ahead of the task is spent in meetings, which focus solely on generating enough of whichever management buzzwords happen to be en vogue at the time. These most likely include gems such as “impact”, “action”, “progression”, “improvements”, and “journey”. An impressive and bloated jargon-bank is then at your disposal to inject into conversation with inspectors and each other as often as possible throughout the task.
- “Tell me about your colleagues”
As the task gets under way, staff are given the opportunity to report, in confidence, the situation within their team as they see it. This of course gives them a much-needed opportunity to let off some steam and possibly divert any negative attention onto whomever they consider to be the team’s weakest link. Ultimately of course, unless there is a wanted criminal in your midst, it will have no bearing whatsoever on the task’s outcome or the judgment imposed at the end of it. No extra points get awarded for being a Nice Guy in this game.
- The close scrutiny
You’re constantly observed by a stony-faced Rottweiler who, armed with a clipboard and the odd raised eyebrow, gives away zero indication of how well or badly you might be doing throughout the task. From time to time, these characters retire to discuss details with their equally stony-faced colleagues behind closed doors, and it’s only at the end of the task that the truth about individual performances is revealed. Much wincing, head-holding and sobbing takes place across a table as the painfully obvious, in hindsight, comes to light.
You’ve worked your socks off to make sure staff are fully on board with your specialist subject plans and you’ve got that all-important paper trail to prove it. Now it’s time to be grilled at length about it. This begins smoothly enough and your confidence is buoyed ─ until a sudden lapse of concentration seems to cause the smiling and nodding to cease, whereupon you’re slowly, horribly led down a new path of questioning, with the inevitable trap at the end of it.
- It all boils down to the data
Schools recording the worst figures at the end of the task feature a staff room full of exhausted, distraught teachers, each nursing cheap tea in an ancient “World’s Best Teacher” mug as they come to terms with the knowledge that a) the mug is lying, and b) the worst scrutiny is yet to come. After this, of course, one or more of them may well get fired, albeit usually the team leaders. Those with the best figures, on the other hand, melt away at the speed of light to the nearest cocktail bar, to toast their success and newly-earned survival. Until next time.
Ben Culverhouse @ben_culverhouse is a class teacher at High Down Junior School, Portishead.