Don't suffer in silence

5th May 2000 at 01:00
If you feel Ofsted has been unfair to you, complain. Elizabeth Holmes explains how.

Is it that we just don't like to complain? Or are we so happy with life that we have no cause to? Or do we not know how to? Throughout your first years of teaching and beyond, there are bound to be situations that may bother, disgruntle and concern you. Knowing how and where to direct those feelings is the most constructive step to take in resolving them.

The one event in school life that you might think would generate multitudinous complaints from teaching circles is inspection. Yet, according to Ofsted statistics, less than 4 per cent of inspections performed during the 1998-99 academic year resulted in a formal complaint being made, and only six cases were referred to Elaine Rassaby, the Ofsted complaints adjudicator.

Whether this is due to general satisfaction with the whole inspection process or the skill with which complaints made during an inspection to the registered inspector on site are handled, it is difficult to know.

Making a complaint about an inspection is relatively easy, if potentially lengthy, and Elaine Rassaby is keen to point out that "NQTs have every right to make a complaint if they need to and should not fear any backlash from Ofsted".

The first step is to raise concerns with the registered inspector as soon as they arise. If a solution is not found, a formal complaint can be lodged with Ofsted by writing to the registrar. If the Ofsted internal review procedures fail to resolve the complaint, it can be considered by the complaints adjudicator.

The final step in this process, if a solution is still not found, is to enlist the help of your MP in presenting the complaint to the Parliamentary ombudsman.

Roy Terry, national case work official for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, feels that NQTs should remember that they are at an advantage when it comes to inspections as they are accustomed to being observed through the training and induction processes. He also advises that during an inspection, "NQTs should draw attention to their strengths and what pleases them about their work. Wherever possible, make inspectors aware of the context in which you are teaching as this will maximise the chances of a sound judgment being made."

The complaints Ofsted receives are a significant way in which it can monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the inspection process. For this reason, it is important to address the aspects of your inspection experiences that you are not happy with, whether they are todo with an inspector's personal manner, the feedback you have received or the impact the inspection has had on your work.

Above all, utilise the full complaints procedure, if necessary.

10-point checklist for NQTs * Make sure you attend all staff meetings in the run-up to an inspection, especially when the registered inspector will be present to talk about the inspection process. Don't keep particular pressures, be they personal or professional, to yourself.

* If there is any aspect of the inspection process that you do not fully understand, ask your induction tutormentor andor headteacher for clarification.

* Once the inspection has begun, make sure you develop an on-going dialogue with inspectors to minimise the chances of misconceptions and misunderstandings. If an observed lesson goes badly, talk to the inspectors about what happened and why. Show that you are a reflective practitioner.

* If you have a concern, talk to your headteacher or induction tutormentor (depending on who has been given the task of receiving concerns). Do this as soon as you can and request that you be advised of any discussions in which your grievance is aired.

* Tell your union rep what you have done, what your concerns are and why.

* Keep a written note of any conversations you have about your concerns with inspectors, your headteacher, mentor or union rep.

* Get and read copies of the documents Making Complaints to Ofsted and Ofsted Complaints Adjudicator, both available free from the Ofsted Publications Centre: 020 7510 0180.

* If your complaint is not dealt with to your satisfaction during the inspection, take further steps only with the advice of your union, headteacher and chair of governors. It is helpful if you have the backing of the head and chair. If you do not, talk to your union about how to proceed formally with Ofsted.

* You could contact one of the Ofsted information lines, but again, take the advice of your headteacher before doing so. Call 020 7421 6673 for advice about the inspection framework interpretation and 020 7421 6680 to discuss concerns about the inspection's conduct.

* Never feel that you, as a new teacher, have no right to raise concerns. It is far better to create a dialogue between you and your line managers than to suffer in silence and, for the vast majority of cases, complaints can be resolved with careful management within the school, during the inspection. Seek and take support, so that what has already been a difficult experience is not protracted unnecessarily.

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