Beat those Ofsted blues

20th May 2005 at 01:00
We were inspected before Easter, and came through the process quite well.

There were no major catastrophes and the school was seen to be good. People went away for the Easter break feeling fine. Now, however, there is definitely an atmosphere of what I can only describe as chronic, low-level tiredness. References to the length of the term, the pressure of Sats and the grind of report-writing seem to be the only topic of conversation.

There are also more absences for sickness. We've still got some time to go before half-term, and I'm worried. How can I do something to lift everyone and generate some energy?

Colleagues frequently tell stories like yours; many heads notice a flattening period after an Ofsted inspection where it seems impossible to fire people up. There seems to be a lowering of emotional well-being which is in direct proportion to the amount of adrenalin expended during the weeks of preparation before an Ofsted and the visit itself.

I'm wondering what the energy levels were like during the Ofsted process.

Something about the vocabulary in your letter causes me to detect a little flatness in your tone. Phrases like "quite well", "no major catastrophes" and "fine"suggest a somewhat resigned response. What were your expectations? How "good" did you think you were? If it is true that perhaps you yourself regarded the Ofsted visit as a necessary bugbear to be born stoically rather than as an opportunity to show off the school's strengths, then your demeanour just possibly has contributed to the group energy levels. Don't underestimate your influence - sometimes the effect we have on others is not what we planned.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that you become a whirlwind of zeal and enthusiasm - the mismatch between your levels and the teachers' is likely to trigger irritation. But it's worth examining where you feel you are and how others might be reading and interpreting the covert messages you will doubtless be giving (you can't not communicate). It's worth asking some key people to give you a bit of feedback - you might be very surprised to know what those messages are.

So, how to lift your staff? You could do nothing. We all need a little downtime after a period of intensive activity, and you could simply come to terms with that. Try to regard this low-key atmosphere you've currently got as a recuperative process of healing and re-grouping. In fact, you could do a little more than nothing; what if you were to plan for it? Just suppose you initiated a working party whose brief it was to design and organise a period of intense recuperation? I'm thinking of a series of planned "duvet" days, where staff take a morning at home for gardening, DIY or for no reason at all; bring in a head masseur, a beautician or appoint an online shopper or a car mechanic. Your team will come up with a long list of possible events and experiences from which can be selected a few with maximum effect.

You could then give the team a more long-term task which would focus on the whole business of balancing energy expenditure and renewal.

One of the disadvantages of teaching is the continuous, ongoing relentlessness of the process. The constant cycle of planning, doing and reviewing does not allow for the natural high which comes as a result of a tangible outcome with clear evidence of success.

The latest research on stress points to the difference between two types.

One - deeply debilitating and damaging - is caused by prolonged pressure without control. Teachers, with the high duty of care and not enough personal power, typically suffer from this. The other, however, triggered by short bursts of frantic activity accompanied by a real outcome, actually plays a significant role in building the body's natural defences, protecting it from illness and the effects of ageing.

So, the task for your team is this: to plan a school year which would incorporate short periods of intensive activity resulting in a real product, stimulating a kind of corporate high, followed by "downtime" to replenish. If they manage to do this successfully, be sure to let us all know - it might be a model which could transform the workforce.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email:

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