Haunted by ghost of Ofsted past

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
I'm an acting headteacher who, like Mike Kent, is looking forward to attending a meeting to hear about the new-style inspections and to be reassured that things might be changing for the better (Friday magazine, May 13 and 27).

I have been "Ofsteded" three times. Once by a very business-like team, once by a team led by an inspector whom the staff nicknamed "the poisoned dwarf", which actually had some human content, and last summer. The first two inspections left me as a good and occasionally very good teacher with some satisfactory elements - a pretty normal profile, I would have thought.

The processes were awful, stressful and wasted enormous quantities of time and paper, not to mention the mountains of biscuits and chocolate consumed.

I was bruised but unbowed.

Then last summer the dreaded brown envelope arrived again. I was, by then, the deputy head of a small school, teaching Year 1 and 2 pupils, and proud of my class. I thought: if Ofsted are going to come, let them come while I still have these pupils. They were independent and ready to engage in their learning.

Ofsted saw good management, good special needs (I'm also Senco), some satisfactory, good and a little very good teaching in my class, but no overall level 3s in the small group of Year 2 pupils. Suddenly I became a satisfactory teacher who did not challenge the older pupils in the class.

This was plastered all over the report and the feedback meeting for the governors was not a process I'd care to live through again. The phrase "but Year 2..." is embedded in my brain. Strangely enough we were not reassured to be told that we should not take any criticism personally.

I don't know if Ofsted is aware of the damage it causes, but I do know that as an aspiring head I am haunted by that report. Neither the positive effects of the feedback from our diocesan inspectors' report, nor of the very good teaching he observed, nor the good lesson observations carried out by a county head, who is also an LEA adviser, and an Ofsted inspector, have mitigated the damage. Neither has the support of teaching colleagues who remind me that I am still the teacher who was judged well by previous inspections; nor the knowledge that our small cohorts make it difficult for statistical comparisons; nor that their current teacher thinks they are fine and that they had achieved appropriate levels in Year 2.

Overriding all this are those damning words "but Year 2...", made by an inspector who had been a secondary head and felt that I was not concerned enough that the children only had aspects of level 3 and were not level 3 all round. I wasn't concerned: I was pleased with their progress when obviously I should have been ashamed. Somehow this was translated into doesn't care, doesn't challenge, and a concern that we knew pupils "too well". Remember that next time you worry over families who don't spend enough time together!

I like to think that I'm a reflective teacher; that I challenge children to do the best they can; that I am open to advice on better ways to do things.

I also think that, like my pupils, I need feedback from people who know that praise works better than condemnation.

Next time I shall remember to challenge a team with little primary experience and no experience at all of small school or early years teaching - although, of course, they had been inspecting schools for the past 11 years. Next time I'll listen to the warning bells.

On second thoughts, maybe I'll just book an emergency operation or cry off with premature senility.

The writer, who wants to remain anonymous, lives in the north of England

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