Judges, do you know when you’ve been tangoed?

9th February 2018 at 00:00
An Ofsted inspection brings out a sequined, sparkly performance from the college hoping to impress, but it’s a buffed version of teachers’ everyday experience

Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. It’s time once again to don my top hat and tails, shine my shoes and take to the floor for the inspection two-step. Yes, very shortly, Ofsted will be turning the bright beam of its spotlight onto my place of work and once again we’ll attempt to put on a hell of a show, darlings! Places, everyone! Big smiles! Big smiles!

Because no matter which way you cut it, there’s always going to be an element of performance when the clipboard brigade come knocking. Even the very best college needs to ensure that its best foot is forward and free from an unsightly cracked heel. It needs to make sure the good things that are going on are obvious and the implicit becomes explicit (at least until the curtain goes down at the end of the week).

Although I do have a tendency towards the dramatic (especially if no one’s stocked up on coffee in the staff room), and although I understand the reasoning behind it, the performance has never sat well with me. With the shift of focus from doing good to having to be seen to be doing good, I think a college loses something essential, an authenticity. There’s an artifice to inspection periods that I don’t feel at any other time in college, and I resent the hell out of it.

I resent that we have to play a game (and make no mistake, the form that inspections take at this current point in time makes it little more than a game, even though the stakes are extremely high); I resent the disruption; I resent the second-guessing. In other words, I resent the dance.

'Why change anything?'

“Ah,” I hear you cry, “but if your college is doing what it needs to be doing, then why change anything?” Well, you fresh-faced, wide-eyed boys and girls, that would mean placing faith in a system that works a certain way. And if you know the dance is the waltz, you don’t break out the steps to the mambo. Because you know what happens then? A lot of folk making a judgement about you hold up a bunch of cards with a lot of zeroes. Boos from the crowd. Exit stage left.

Teaching in FE is already the greatest show in town. The fact that the show has to change because of a couple of extra members in the audience is always going to be something that I find, at heart, a little distasteful.

But, like they say, the show must go on. I’ve learned my lines, I know my cues, my make-up and hair are flawless, so all I need to do now is dazzle them with some fancy footwork and make sure that I come across as vaguely competent.

That in itself takes quite a performance, let me tell you. Now, out of my way, my public awaits.

Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England

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