This is a #SecretOfsted article posted by @TeacherToolkit.
This is an experience of a Ofsted inspection, written by a deputy headteacher with pastoral responsibility, working in a secondary school in South East London. The inspection was carried out on the 10/11th September 2014.
Imagine you are Ridley Scott, or maybe Spielberg. And at the première of your latest blockbuster, the critics are drooling over what they see. One of them gives your arm a nudge, smiles intently at you, leans in and whispers that the costumes are phenomenal; the direction is perfect; the casting is wonderful and that this looks like being a very fine piece of movie-making indeed. You relax a little, steeple your fingers and afford yourself a smile anticipating the outstanding reviews that will greet you the next day as you peruse the morning papers.
But after a brief visit to the toilet, the critic returns to his seat agitated. He leans in again and informs you that actually the setting is bleak, the lighting could improve and the camera work is shoddy. Almost as if someone grabbed him on the way back to his seat and pointed out the few shortcomings in the film. He says it is not perfect. He will, despite the earlier superlatives, class your film as merely good rather than outstanding. That five star rating will have to wait. And in the review he will gloss over the excellent, the wonderful, the unique.
In fact, on reading the draft review, you will not recognise the film you have spent many years planning, directing and producing. You will struggle to understand the criticism the leading lady gets. The extras, who contribute to many a vital scene, will be seen as peripheral and unimportant to the overall success and quality of the picture. He will cite the occasional shaky hand of the cameraman, despite that cameraman being one of the best and most sought after in the business, and despite having to film in terrible conditions and difficult weather, the critic will dismiss that and judge him by that one performance, overlooking his much vaunted previous work. He may praise the supporting actors but say they haven’t yet been in enough films to warrant being considered outstanding just yet.
Excuse the over-long analogy. I hope you get the point I am trying to make.
When I thought about getting my thoughts of our recent Ofsted experience down on paper it was difficult to not come across as bitter. Sour grapes were being crushed. I was whinging and whining rather than getting on with it, accepting the decision and moving on. But I feel a disservice was done. Our inspectors had neglected to wear their 3D-specs so were not getting a clear view of things.
We were graded as Good. At the end of the first day, we were on the cusp of Outstanding.
Overnight the inspectors morphed from Snow White into Cruella Deville.
Some school context: Over the last five years our results have risen sharply, then plateaued and, like many schools, we experienced a slight dip this year. We have regularly been in the top five percent of schools nationally for progress. We are a Local Authority controlled school but are surrounded by academies. The ability of the vast majority of our pupils is well below national average on entry. Two thirds of our pupils receive pupil premium. We have a significantly high number of FSM, EAL and SEN pupils. We have over 40 languages spoken in the school.
Yet we do amazing things. We have dramatically improved attendance and reduced exclusions. We have had letters from mayors and ministers who eulogise about the difference we do make to pupils, particularly those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
And yet we are good. Merely good. Because the big picture was ignored, glossed over.
I could regale you with the minutiae of the inspection. How three quarters of the inspection team was changed the afternoon before the first day. How one of the team flatly refused to demonstrate courtesy towards staff and could not even respond to a ‘good morning’. How a book scrutiny consisted of looking at three books and how our offers to the team of last year’s books so we could demonstrate progress over time were rebuffed. The fact that lessons were graded and subsequent feedback rushed, poorly delivered or not delivered at all. How our internal data was dismissed and its validity questioned. How there was a threatening and intimidating air in some of the meetings. I could go on …
So, you can see where the sour grapes thing comes in?
Image: Sy Clark
What Really Matters?
We are a few weeks on from our inspection now. It hit us hard. But we have regrouped and responded. Closed ranks.
Last week we opened our doors (although they are always open. We are that kind of school). Hundreds of families came to see us in action to judge whether we are the right school for them and their child. An overwhelming majority said we are. They love our ethos and inclusivity, our diversity and uniqueness.
They gave us five stars and I suppose in the end that’s what really matters?
@TeacherToolkit footnotes: At no time should inspectors grade individual lessons. This has been stated categorically in Ofsted publication.
Mike Cladingbowl has specifically requested that rogue inspectors are reported.
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