Rhapsody for Ofsted
There are two words that strike fear into the heart of the teacher like no other: Of. Sted. The jungle drums beat "Ofsted, Ofsted, Ofsted". Teachers scream. Pandemonium breaks out. Then the data trawl begins. We are searching for IEPs and FSMs! I panic. I teach 150 pupils. If I am quizzed by the inspector, will my pupils' data spring to mind? Should I invest in an FSM stamp to brand their foreheads? I rehearse model answers and feel much better, until I realise its 2am and I had better start to plan some lessons.
Progress. We must show progress. Even in 20 minutes. And pupils must know how they've made progress. So I begin to plan. Collaborative work? AFL? Independent learning? Engaging activities? TEEP methods? You name it, it goes in my planning. There are targets and levels and working at grades. There are corrections and suggestions and, often, a lot of despair.
And quicker than you can say "Monday morning", Of. Sted. is here. The inspectors look friendly but I'm not buying it. I'm certainly not buying it when one walks into my class, attendance at which has been depleted by a maths exam. Of. Sted. said it wouldn't be coming into any classes affected by an exam. Wrong! They're here! In my classroom!
Bohemian Rhapsody blasts out from my speakers, pupils rush around trying to memorise a Lord of the Flies diagram and feed back to their group to draw it. It's going swimmingly. I dash round asking pupils questions and making sure they're on task. "Why are we listening to this music?" an inspector asks a pupil. They don't know yet, inspector, as we've not got to the part where we discuss it! "Do you normally learn like this?" he asks another pupil. Say yes, child, say yes.
I ask pupils to feed back their ideas, but they freeze. "Don't know, Miss." "Not sure, Miss." I realise they are more scared than I am. And in the blink of an eye my inspector is gone.
I am largely happy with the first part of my feedback, but then the part of the lesson the inspector watched is criticised for not including what I was beginning as he walked out the door. I point this out to him. He replies that he can only consider what he has actually seen, as opposed to what was in the lesson plan. The system, it seems, is flawed. Who'd have thought it?
At 3pm on Tuesday it is over. I can barely talk or walk. I am proud of the school's result, my department's fantastic work, even myself. But I'm aware inspection is unnecessarily stressful and demeaning. The workload we encounter every day is unreasonable. The pressure to deliver ever-increasing results is unreasonable. That the magic that is teaching should be measured by ticking boxes is unreasonable.
Ofsted serves to destroy any smidgen of fairness left. Thank goodness we get paid so well and enjoy solid pensions and agreeable retirement ages. Oh, I forgot. By the way, inspector, you left before we worked out the answer. Freddie and the boys sing: "Beelzebub has a devil put aside for meeeee ...". Beelzebub roughly translated from its Hebrew origin is, of course, "Lord of the Flies". In this way, the pupils make links between the author's intention, hell and man's propensity for evil. The only question left. Of. Sted. inspector: do you understand irony?
Amy Winston is an English teacher at a comprehensive in the West Midlands.