Under inspection

1st May 2015 at 01:00
A stranger in our midst

My first experience of an Ofsted inspection as a senior leader was when I was working at a brilliant school in Slough. It catered for students with behavioural difficulties, who would now be described as having social, emotional and mental health needs.

These young people could be volatile, aggressive and occasionally violent, and needed careful preparation for anything out of the ordinary. An inspection certainly came under this heading, which meant that some groundwork was necessary to help the children cope with the change to their routine.

In a discussion with them the day before the Ofsted visit, Simon in Year 11 helpfully demanded that I warn off the lead inspector. "If he talks to me, I'm gonna shank him," he said. My knowledge of the inspection framework was less comprehensive then than it is now, but it seemed unlikely that Ofsted would judge this as good.

The day of the inspection came. We had a ritual every morning whereby the headteacher - a self-confessed control freak - would settle the students in an assembly. That morning, I deputised as she and the lead inspector had a meeting that overran significantly. The five-minute assembly became 15 minutes and I made the decision to dismiss the students to lessons when I could see that everyone was getting restless.

This was a big mistake as it immediately riled my boss and brought me a look that could kill. "How am I supposed to settle the students now?" she asked, the unspoken implication being: "Because you couldn't possibly have."

I taught GCSE maths and science, and this reduced my popularity with many of the students. My first lesson that day was maths with Year 11 and we were factorising algebraic expressions.

In walked the lead inspector. "How do the students know how well they're doing?" he asked. I explained. He then talked to Simon, who responded in a way I could only have dreamed of. (Double fist pump! Jarlath, you genius.)

In a room with five students and two staff, the addition of an inquisitive inspector for 30 minutes was something the pupils couldn't ignore. But they were brilliant. "I've seen enough. Thanks," the inspector said as he turned to walk out of the door. My sigh of relief was audible to everyone.

But then.

"Gay!" Simon shouted.

So close. So close.

Jarlath O'Brien is headteacher of Carwarden House Community School in Surrey. @jarlathobrien

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