"Roll up, roll up! There's fun for all ages at the Greatest Show on Earth!"
That's not quite what our headteacher chanted at the staff meeting the day before Ofsted rolled into town but he might as well have done. It seems to me that the whole inspection process is a circus from start to finish.
The night before the inspectors arrived, I spent hours making sure that my books were well-marked. I tweaked my already well-planned lessons. When I was finished, I looked around to find my family, only to discover that they had gone to bed hours before. Working all evening and going to bed after the witching hour - that's the cornerstone of any successful inspection.
I arrived at school the next morning to find it unrecognisable. The senior leadership team were all out herding startled kids along to registration before the official start time, none of the noticeboards had ripped backing paper and the queue for the photocopier was already around the block. What had happened?
Prowling the school, casting carnivorous glances, inspectors nodded at the scenes in front of them. Decisions were made. Correct me if I'm wrong, but these people aren't idiots, are they? They are themselves educators, skilled in the art of pedagogy, experts in sharing best practice and lesson-observers of the highest calibre. So why do they walk around grading a school on what is clearly not the norm?
We all abide by this unwritten law. The first rule of Ofsted inspections is: we don't talk about the fact that they are inspecting a fiction. They only ever see an idealised version of our school - a utopia where teachers plan 25 outstanding lessons a week and keep more than 200 exercise books up to date, while our glorious leaders are always on hand to ensure that our beautifully behaved students spend every minute of every lesson learning and progressing.
The inspectors know this isn't real and so do the leaders - and the teachers are very well aware that we couldn't usually work like this without burning out before October half-term. Most of all, the kids know that the atmosphere isn't sustainable. "Wow, had a great chemistry lesson today, Sir. I suppose it'll be back to copying out of textbooks next week when the inspectors have gone?"
Can we stop playing this game? I'd prefer no-notice inspections. If we've nothing to hide, there's nothing to fear. We can tear the big top down and everyone can stop jumping through hoops and acting like clowns. Isn't it time that education grew up?
The writer is a department head at a secondary school
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