It's time to set the record straight

26th April 2013 at 01:00
We are portrayed as the bad guys but we are on the side of good, an Ofsted inspector writes

I am an Ofsted inspector. There. I've said it.

Where reference is made in these pages to inspection, and particularly to Ofsted, it is highly likely to generate passionate emotions, and probably negative ones. They are almost certainly feelings of injustice, stressful memories, perhaps even fury. Furthermore, I am assuming you all have a story to tell.

Indeed, barely a week goes by without reference being made in TES to Ofsted, the experiences endured and the consequences resulting from inspection. The fact is, however, that anecdotes of the overall experience, narrated by practitioners who have been on the receiving end or know someone who has, are often embellished or misinterpreted and are generally taken out of context. In addition to these first- and second- hand stories are those of practitioners anticipating a forthcoming inspection, made more scary by the numerous articles presented by the media.

Not only do I have my own reference point from more than a decade in the role of inspector, but I am also in the position of colleague to fellow consultant-inspectors. As such, I have an intrinsic desire to set the record straight.

Too often, anecdotes of "bad" experiences appear to foster a club-type culture, in which inspectors are automatically the "bad guys" and those on the receiving end take comfort in sharing similar horror stories. Indeed, when I visit providers in a non-inspection context as a consultant, all too often improvements that could be put in place are not because staff believe that judgements made by Ofsted are unrealistic, unreliable and inaccurate.

Yet when I compare outcomes from my consultancy activities, which is often requested in response to inspection findings, the judgements seldom alter. Too often this is the fault of a general apathy by some staff and insecurity by others.

But this is not my only concern. Despite the considerable amount of media coverage, articles and books making reference to the inspection experience and the stress endured by those on the receiving end, nothing appears to have been written about the experience from the perspective of inspectors. It is conspicuous by its absence.

Inspections are stressful for inspectors, too.

It would have been reckless of me to write about this topic without sounding out fellow inspectors. Doing so confirmed that the majority of the inspectors consulted had been through stressful inspections. My discussions with them began with open questions about their inspection experience generally. Interestingly, the vast majority responded with adjectives such as "enjoyable" and discussed "loving" inspections.

When they were encouraged to expand, the occasions when the experience was less enjoyable were often down to factors that affected their conscience, mainly the impact on teachers and providers. That is not to say that the inspectors doubted the accuracy of their judgements or even their code of conduct, but that they were concerned about the impact on individuals. A very small, but significant, number of inspectors remained troubled by situations related to an inspection. Let us be clear, then: being an inspector is stressful.

I gave considerable thought to how, where and even if I would present this article for publication, for fear of making waves or exposing myself to higher authorities, which could impact on my career. My concern lay with any possible fallout from bodies such as Ofsted, which would not welcome any damage to their reputations.

However, the need to raise concerns over duty of care far outweighed these concerns, as I owe it to my counterparts and to those at risk to share my findings in the hope of directly stimulating positive action.

Therefore, for the time being, this article remains anonymous to allow for further exploration, while also providing reassurance to those inspectors participating in what must surely be a worthwhile quest.

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