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Under inspection

united against a common enemy

united against a common enemy

I've gone through a number of Ofsted inspections and it is always a strange experience. Staff behaviour changes, daily routines are altered and a manic, exhausting energy pervades.

It's no wonder staff feel the burden keenly - but it's easy to become so wrapped up in the process that we also forget it has an effect on the students we teach.

Whether this pressure is transmitted explicitly or not makes very little difference. Young people are keenly attuned to any deviation from the norm and will react to it. Despite having seen this happen now on a number of occasions in different schools, I still find it interesting.

Almost unanimously, even in the most challenging institutions, young people defend their place of learning with the ferocity and vigour of knights protecting their realm from hungry dragons.

The common expectation is that the children will go out of their way to sabotage your efforts to dazzle the clipboard-carrying judges. Don't get me wrong, that can be the case. But in the vast majority of inspections I have been witness to (in schools, pupil referral units and further education colleges), students have gone out of their way to help in any way they can.

Sometimes this enthusiasm translates to glaringly obvious attempts to get the inspectorate onside. Former hard nuts espouse the joys of learning in stuttering platitudes because they think it's what the inspectors want to hear. Raucous classes become silent and malleable with the flash of a blue suit. Kids who were your worst nightmare become comrades-in-arms against the common enemy.

"Sir! Are they in there, Sir?" is whispered conspiratorially up and down corridors. Clumsy attempts to do the right thing - to be "good" - take place in every classroom.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there is the sense of resentment that children feel at being judged by an outsider. I have heard mild-mannered, easy-going types spit venom in reference to "that lot". There is a palpable animosity towards the inspectors that the students haven't learned to mask like the teachers have. More power to them.

Personally, I don't think much good ever comes from an inspection. It has never been a positive experience for me (even when the outcome was). However, I do take solace in the fact that every time I have gone through it, I have shared it with young people who have taken it upon themselves to protect what is theirs in the best way they can. They have tried to take a bold stand against the dragon and in doing so they have made me feel a little braver.

Trevor Milton is a teacher in the North East of England

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