Pretend I'm not here: Gove drops in with the inspectors

1st February 2013 at 00:00
One school got more than it bargained for when Ofsted visited

When Patrick Winston took the call from Ofsted telling him that his school was due a visit from the inspectors, he was prepared for it. What the principal of St Paul's Academy in Greenwich, South London, did not expect was the news that the inspection team would include a special guest: education secretary Michael Gove.

Mr Gove revealed in a Commons Education Select Committee meeting last Wednesday that he would be shadowing an Ofsted inspection the following day - the first time he would witness inspector boots on the ground. He had previously said that he wanted to shadow a teacher.

Mr Winston suffered a less than perfect start to the week when he was forced to close his school last Monday because of the heavy snow. His luck did not improve when the call from Ofsted came. What Mr Winston (pictured right) had anticipated was a visit from two HMIs and two additional inspectors. But he was given the news that two VIPs would be joining the team: England's senior HMI and the man ultimately in charge of every school in the country, Mr Gove.

"I was a little shocked," the principal told TES. "But you can't exactly turn around and tell them no."

According to Mr Winston, the education secretary said that he wanted to be treated as if he was a trainee inspector and that he was there to observe the whole inspection process. He arrived with the team at 9.30am, attended lesson observations, listened in on feedback meetings and was included in debriefings before leaving at 3pm. "I didn't have a problem with it," Mr Winston said. "He came across as a very pleasant person."

But the minister's affability didn't stop the principal giving him his thoughts on the English Baccalaureate. "I told him that I didn't think it was the right route for everybody," Mr Winston said. "I think he was impressed by what he saw. We are a school that is defying the odds. We serve a very challenging area. Our kids come in below the national average and leave above it and I think he was encouraged by what we are doing."

It was only when Mr Winston spoke to some of his pupils after the inspection team had gone that he realised how tough a day it had been for his staff and pupils. "There was no doubt it put additional pressure on," he said. "I had some pupils come up to me afterwards who said they were sorry that they may not have appeared as engaged in class as they normally might have done.

"They said they were nervous when asked to come to the front of the class with four other people observing the lesson. That is when I realised my staff must have really felt the pressure."

Mr Gove said: "It was fascinating to join this Ofsted inspection. Seeing an inspection first-hand was invaluable and gave me a unique insight into what teachers go through and the hard work they put in. I must give a big thank you to everyone involved - the inspectors, all the teachers and Patrick - for putting up with me and my questions."

But school staff now feeling safe in the knowledge that Mr Gove will not be appearing in their lessons should beware: his plan to shadow a teacher has not been abandoned.

See pages 14-15


Twitter reaction to news that Mr Gove would accompany inspectors:

@EmTudor74: So it really does look like it's my school ... Yikes!

@mattayg: There must be a school out there who have just found out about inspection, and have no idea how much worse it is going to get!

@missreteacher: I would take that man on in a heartbeat!

@ManicStTeacher: "He can shadow me in a pupil referral unit! Ha."

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