Under inspection

5th June 2015 at 01:00
`Gaming' the system in a private school

I teach at a private school that is rated as being among the UK's top 100. But there is always an argument about the validity of the indicators used to rank these schools, inspection reports being the most contentious.

The Independent Schools Inspectorate does not provide a single overarching judgement of schools but instead assigns ratings to all elements of school life. And it is very easy to game.

Prior to our school's inspection, the headmaster led a two-hour staff meeting at which we were taken point by point through a comprehensive list of dos and don'ts. The list was then emailed out and a hard copy pinned up in the staffroom.

The advice included: "Say you are supported by senior staff at all times, no matter what the issue is" (not true); "Make it clear you have been offered well-being sessions" (not true); and "Make it clear management have an open-door policy and you feel comfortable making use of it" (also not true).

I felt outraged that I was being coached on what to say and how to behave, and in essence being fed a load of lies to pass on to the inspectors.

It's just as bad for the pupils. The inspectors measure personal development mostly via interviews with the students, all of whom were coached prior to our inspection. Again, they were given a list of dos and don'ts.

I believe it is possible to rig and overinflate all aspects of this inspection: the school was given a checklist in advance and had time to prepare documents corresponding to it.

So what is the point of being inspected? It doesn't benefit the school, the staff or the students. It doesn't provide any useful information for parents. In fact, it does the opposite. Our fantastic report is plastered all over our website, stating that we're "outstanding in every area". It doesn't say that this judgement was largely down to the coaching of staff and pupils alike.

Would it not be better for us to go under the umbrella of England's state school inspectorate Ofsted? Such a proposal would infuriate our headmaster, and you can see why. We wouldn't be "outstanding", for a start. The rigorous approach Ofsted takes would highlight some very embarrassing failures, most notably in leadership.

But I feel we would be better off under Ofsted. Although its faults have been well publicised by my state sector colleagues, at least it attempts a proper assessment.

The writer is a teacher at an independent school in the North East of England

Tell us your experiences of inspection

Email jon.severs@tesglobal.com


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