Sins of the inspectors #1: sleeping on the job
Ofsted has never been popular with teachers. But dissatisfaction with the watchdog's inspectors is plumbing new depths if opinions on TES's online forum are anything to go by.
The past fortnight has seen hundreds of disgruntled contributors queue up to share scathing accounts of the behaviour of the professionals employed to judge their work.
Their complaints range from inspectors falling asleep on the job to seemingly arbitrary decisions, a lack of subject knowledge and a failure to even grasp what lessons they were in. They come in the same month as it emerged that the watchdog does not know how many of its elite Her Majesty's Inspectors have headship experience, and as members of the two largest teaching unions called for Ofsted boycotts.
"My contempt for Ofsted is boundless," wrote one teacher in a post that appears to sum up the mood of the discussion.
The accounts of inspectors' "ridiculous" behaviour are anecdotal, unverifiable, from a self-selecting group of contributors and could easily be fictitious. But if even a fraction of them are true, the inspectorate has got problems.
The discussion comes at a time when, following the appointment of plain-speaking chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted has reached levels of controversy not seen since the days of Sir Chris Woodhead. The NUT is considering a non-cooperation campaign that would see inspectors barred from classrooms.
Among the experiences related by enraged TES readers is the inspector who observed a teacher's lesson and told her: "Your children are rather too well behaved and polite."
Another inspector watched a group of Year 4 children building models to demonstrate the Roman central heating system and declared it "the best DT lesson I've seen this year". After being told he had got the wrong room and had actually just witnessed a history lesson, the inspector said: "Oh dear, sorry. Nonetheless it was still the best DT lesson I've seen, so it's going in the report, but I'll say DT embedded in history instead of DT with a history theme."
He was reportedly as good as his word, in a rare story with a happy ending. Another teacher was less fortunate and was told: "That was a good lesson, but I'm going to mark it down as satisfactory because you talked too much."
Ofsted's understandable desire to ensure that all minority groups are achieving can also lead to confusion. One teacher was told that the 25 per cent "success rate" for male Bengali sixth-formers was a "serious issue" that could lead to a downgrading. In fact, out of only four such pupils, one was being treated for cancer, another had died in a road accident and a third was in a young offenders' institution.
Another inspector reportedly criticised a primary school for underachievement among boys, when the only one in a cohort of six had a special educational needs statement and "the language ability of six-month-old baby".
It took nearly 100 posts before anyone spoke up for Ofsted, writing that inspectors were "usually very reasonable". But it was one positive intervention among a litany of complaints, leading to claims that the inspectorate was "not fit for purpose" and calls for strikes, boycotts and teachers to "make a stand".
One PE teacher was reportedly told that their lesson was "unsatisfactory as there were children doing nothing at some points in the lesson". The decision was overturned after it was pointed out that the pupils were fielding in a cricket match.
Meanwhile, a teacher who was observed while she was eight months pregnant was told she had been downgraded because she "didn't move round the room enough". Another teacher was reprimanded for giving a left-handed "back to front" tick.
Some of the stories sound far-fetched. But to many TES contributors who have experienced Ofsted inspections, they apparently represent the norm. "In a saner world we'd read about these experiences and find them hard to believe," one responded. "As it is, they're not at all surprising!"
An Ofsted spokesperson said: "Ofsted constantly engages with teacher representatives to gather information on teachers' views, and this forum is an interesting addition to the debate. It is difficult to respond to rumour and anecdote, particularly considering the outdated nature of some of the stories. It is worth keeping in mind that out of thousands of inspections each year, Ofsted receives complaints about less than 3 per cent."
Read the discussion at http:bit.lyHKXQbZ
Words of advice
How to achieve an 'outstanding' verdict, as reportedly told to TES forum contributors by Ofsted inspectors:
- 'Do something that I've never seen before.'
- 'Put all the pupils in chef's whites instead of aprons' - to a teacher after a 'good' food technology lesson.
- 'Just keep doing what you're doing.'
- 'Take a risk.'
- 'You were taking too many risks' - to a teacher graded 'good'.
- 'I don't give grade 1s.'
- 'I don't know.'
- 'That's always a difficult one.'
- 'I don't give any more than "good". That's my policy'.