Feel the inspection fear, but get on with it

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Part of my Christmas holiday was spent checking our Ofsted report which is to be published early in January. In view of the tragic events of Boxing Day it now seems ridiculous that I was so anxious and uptight about our forthcoming inspection.

After all, we have been through some very difficult times at our school and we have come through them and even thrived on the experience.

Although we are not at the top (or even near the top) of any league table we are regarded as a successful school with particular expertise in many areas. Why then were we so worried?

There is nothing rational about our feelings and attitude during this time.

We all have our individual doubts and are somehow afraid of being found out. We fear we may fail under close scrutiny.

No matter how experienced we are and no matter how good others think we are, inside we are full of doubts. But it is this self-doubt makes us good at our jobs and makes us strive to improve our practice.

Good teachers are never fully satisfied with their performance. During the lead up to the inspection they feel exposed and vulnerable but once it arrives they are very keen to show off their skills and are even disappointed when no inspector comes to see the lesson they spent ages preparing.

As head it is impossible to feel anything other than terrified in the run-up to an inspection. There is nobody to blame if things go wrong. The responsibility is all yours. There is no hiding place. I learned this lesson many years ago when I was seconded as deputy head to a school that had just received notification of its Ofsted inspection.

The head was new and had only been in post since September. The inspection was to take place early in April. The one deputy head had had a heart attack and his partner on the senior leadership team went out in sympathy.

The school was staffed mostly by supply teachers and was in a real mess.

Every aspect we looked at, was in serious trouble. We did what we could in the short time available but the task was too enormous. The school went into special measures.

I left immediately afterwards to take up my first headship and I was not around for the bloody aftermath. The new head became the fall-guy and was "encouraged" to resign shortly afterwards. Both governors and the local authority were quick to lay blame and the school had a number of interim heads before a substantive head was appointed. Thankfully, the school came out of special measures about two or three years later following a lot of LEA investment and support.

I am still shocked by the brutality of the inspection fall-out. The new head was not the person responsible for the state of the school. If he was guilty of anything, it was that he did not really understand the true state of the school he took over. Neither the governors, nor the LEA made this explicit. The fact that he could not work a miracle in a very short time, was enough to remove him from his job.

Yet his predecessor who had been in post for two decades had left the previous July with his full pension intact. All the signs and indicators that the school was in trouble were there to be seen many years before he retired and I still cannot understand why the governors and LEA did not act sooner. Why ruin the career of a very capable and determined head? He knew what he had to do to turn the school around. The Ofsted team acknowledged this and agreed that all he needed was time and appropriate resources.

Life is not fair. I know that. I don't blame Ofsted for putting schools into special measures if that is what they find. However, I do blame LEAs and governing bodies who do not accept their part of the blame where it is justified. This is one reason why many senior leaders have no desire to become heads. They don't want to become the fall-guy.

This experience has stayed with me and lurked at the back of my mind in the lead up to our inspection. I know that resilience is a key feature of headship but I can only imagine the depth needed when your school fails its inspection. My only advice to those of you about to be inspected is feel the fear and just get on with it!

Kenny Frederick is head of George Green's school, Tower Hamlets, east London

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