Tricks of the trade

6th January 2012 at 00:00
William Stewart hears about some of the most brazen cases and asks whether the alleged behaviour is being addressed

At a struggling inner-city secondary, referred to by its teachers as a "hell-hole" and its deputy head as "fucking tough", things are about to get tougher still. Ofsted is visiting and a sense of doom has enveloped the school. But one teacher feels it more than most. He has learnt that he will be taking three of the worst classes in this "challenging" school, one of them twice, on the day that inspectors are expected to tour the classrooms.

It is break-time the morning before the inspection and the teacher is still wincing at the prospect when the deputy head sidles up for a chat.

The senior member of staff then starts to reel off the names of more than a dozen of the most challenging pupils from the "worst" three classes. Initially, it seems like a nasty exercise in vindictive gloating.

But just as the already-anxious teacher is about to explode, his leader places a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He tells him not to worry: "None of these little shits will be in tomorrow, you have my word."

The teacher asks how he can be so sure. Despite - or perhaps because of - their mission to disrupt, these pupils have an excellent attendance record. The deputy head says nothing, reaches into his inside jacket pocket and shows him an inch-thick wad of pound;20 notes.

"I learned later that some of those kids had received up to pound;100 or so not to attend school on that day," the teacher reports. "It seemed he [the deputy] had, in total, paid the equivalent of a whole class to truant for the day."

Find that shocking? Then what about the newly qualified teacher whose mental health was sacrificed so that a London school could pass its Ofsted inspection.

The teacher had been doing well in her induction year, but after a single bad lesson observation suddenly received a letter from the school explaining that it was starting the dismissal process.

It was only after the NQT had had a nervous breakdown that she was told in confidence by the head that the only reason capability proceedings had been started was so that the teacher would not be observed during an impending Ofsted inspection.

Then there is the case of the school artwork, highly praised by Ofsted, that has now been laminated, and is loaned out to neighbouring schools and proudly displayed every time inspectors threaten a visit.

There are the schools where certain teachers are told to go off sick when Ofsted is due, and others where highly experienced professionals suddenly appear; schools where the most disruptive pupils disappear for a trip to Alton Towers during inspections; and those where lessons are rehearsed and learnt by heart by pupils in advance so that they can be performed during an Ofsted visit.

These stories, and many more like them, are not unusual, according to the teachers who tell them. They claim they are symptomatic of an inspection system that is "broken" and full of "cover-ups".

You can read the full article in the January 6 issue of TES

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