When Ofsted comes calling, keep smiling

14th November 2014 at 00:00
If your school has received a poor rating, don't let it knock your confidence. Stay calm when the inspectors pay their next visit

It has happened. Ofsted has rated your school inadequate. It's easy to take the judgement personally and decide that the state of the school is a reflection of your abilities as an individual teacher. Your confidence is low; you are questioning why you are in the job.

But you need to shake off this attitude - and do it fast. If you don't, you will simply be adding to the school's problems when the next Ofsted inspection rolls around. You need to help prevent a second negative rating by showing off your skills as a professional and forward-thinking teacher. You need to demonstrate to inspectors that this is not the school they think it is, that progress and learning are integral to everything you do. You need to make it clear that this is a good school.

I realise that this attitude is not always easy to adopt - I've been in schools that are in special measures and it's not fun. Interim inspections seem to take place almost daily and the dreaded call from Ofsted lurks around every corner. But you have to try. Schools are only as good as their teachers: if every teacher gives up, the school will certainly fail.

You can make a difference. Here are my tips for ensuring that you perform at your best in the next inspection, regardless of the mayhem around you. Forget the wider problems of the school and concentrate on your domain.

Stick to the plan

You created your lesson plan for a reason, so don't go changing it. The best Ofsted feedback I have ever received was for a bog-standard analysis lesson: some paired and group work, independent writing and peer feedback. No all-singing, all-dancing PowerPoints, no hot-seating and no sweat. Instead, I moved around the room, smiling with a "don't you dare" stare to prevent poor behaviour. Keep to your schedule - you know what you have planned and it won't help your nerves to change it at the last minute.

Show progress

Inspectors will be in your lessons for all of 20 minutes. They want to see progress, so make sure that they do. Assessment for Learning (AfL) is the key here: ask questions that relate to the learning objective, bounce ideas around the room to allow answers to develop and get pupils to reiterate what they have learned with peer- or self-assessment. AfL can take place at any point in a lesson, so have some ideas up your sleeve to whip out when needed.

Don't get aggravated by admin

My advice is to complete the bare minimum of admin each week. Mark books in line with your school policy. Ours is to tick and flick class books and formally assess long pieces of writing and homework. I mark the books for each class once a week; keeping on top of this means I don't freak out on the day of inspection.

I also make sure I have all the data that inspectors could want, such as special educational need profiles and statistics on free school meals. This doesn't need to be labour-intensive: just print off your register and highlight the relevant students. It is also sensible to make a copy of your seating plan and lesson plan. Place these in a folder on your desk so that when an inspector walks in you can give it to them straight away.

Incidentally, I always acknowledge the inspector, introduce them to the class and indicate where they should sit - away from naughty pupils and near examples of the work we are completing. Of course, this is only possible if you know they are coming, but it can easily be arranged at short notice.

Keep calm and teach

Teachers who get flustered and run around photocopying, changing their lessons and staying at school until 10pm are not going to be the calm and collected professionals they usually are. Don't try to compensate for school-wide problems: work within those constraints instead of trying to fix them. Believe that you are a good teacher and don't change the way you do things.

Get used to being watched

In light of the recent announcement that teachers will no longer receive individual grades from Ofsted, it is more important than ever to make use of your in-school observations - don't receive them, ask for them. It's imperative that these observations take place throughout the year, so that you get used to people watching you teach. This should prevent you from getting flustered when an inspector enters your classroom. And even the most experienced teachers need support and advice sometimes.

Remember who you answer to

Ofsted is part of our teaching practice, but it's not the most important element. It's easy to get bogged down in politics and government proposals, but remember that it's your job to be the best teacher for that particular class of students. Your school may be failing but you need to control the areas that you can - and that is all about how you teach.

Georgia Neale teaches at a mixed secondary school in the South East of England

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