The blackest of Fridays

26th July 1996 at 01:00
There it was on the OFSTED assessment sheet under the heading Teaching: Grade 5. And Grade 5 is Unsatisfactory.

I was devastated. My head of department had invited the adviser, who had worked as an OFSTED inspector, into school for the day as preparation for our school's OFSTED inspection in the autumn. I had suggested he observe my Year 9 bottom stream maths class. I was confident that, given the nature of the class (half had statements and there were several troublesome students), he would recognise how difficult a task I had - a task I believed I was tackling well.

The shock of his "unsatisfactory" was made worse because it was so unexpected. At the end of the day, the department held a meeting to hear the adviser's views. He was cheerful and complimentary. Although there were one or two things we needed to look at, he assured us that we had nothing to fear from the OFSTED inspection. At the end of the meeting he handed us his assessment sheets - exactly the same as would be used by the OFSTED inspectors in the autumn. I was so confident I didn't even bother to look at mine until the next day.

When you have been teaching for 20 years, it is devastating to have your work dismissed on Friday afternoon as "unsatisfactory" by a complete stranger sitting in the back of your classroom. It makes you wonder what you have been doing all those years, and if it's worth going on. The fact that this wasn't the "real" OFSTED inspection did not help. I spent the weekend swinging from depression to indifference to anger. And I felt humiliated by that word "unsatisfactory".

But, I told myself, there were things in my favour. The adviser had been in the room for only 18 minutes. The lesson was at the end of a long day, at the end of a long and tiring term. The atmosphere in the classroom had been good, with no behaviour problems. The pupils worked and there was clearly a good relationship between teacher and pupils. Four years ago, I had been congratulated by another adviser on my teaching of similar groups. In 20 years I have not had a serious complaint from parents. And I knew from support staff who worked with me that they believed I was doing a good job.

All this helped me recover some of my lost confidence. But the experience has left me with the view that, whatever Chris Woodhead and his inspectors think they are doing, they are wrong if they believe they are helping teachers to improve.

The kind of devastating judgment I was subjected to that Friday afternoon destroys confidence and humiliates. It produces worse teachers, never better ones.

The author works in a West Country comprehensive

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