Merely Good by @TeacherToolkit #SecretOfsted

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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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.

clapperboard Secret Ofsted


Leading Lady:

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.

Cruella Deville.

Image: DevaintArt


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.

Merely Good:

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?

Sour Grapes

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?

Any advice?


@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.

Comments are free:

If you would like to leave a comment for this deputy headteacher, please do so by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post. After sharing your comments, I will respond to the comment on behalf of the secret-teacher. To read other Secret Ofsted stories, click here.

Photo Credit: seq via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: seq via Compfight cc

Secret @TeacherToolkit?

If you have an Ofsted experience you would like to share; please contact me below in good faith. They will be treated confidentially and respectfully, in order to share our experiences with a wider audience.



14 thoughts on “Merely Good by @TeacherToolkit #SecretOfsted

  1. Carmel Gibbons > Comment: Well done for posting made sobering reading. Unfortunately Ofsted just have too much power..and they set the scene for the entire culture of our education system in this country..I’m just glad you know how good you really are..and you don’t need Ofsted to tell you that!

  2. Anonymous comment via email: I was chatting to a teacher friend this week. She works in an all girls secondary school in London. Her school is in the top 5% in xxxx based on results. The previous 3 inspections had all been outstanding – Ofsted and improvement partners. 75% A* to C. They were inspected recently by Tribal (Ofsted) and received a 3 RI judgement. They were told that the students made good progress despite the teachers! Rudeness was highly prevalent in the attitude of inspectors. One colleague was told that her marking had let the students, parents and the school down. Went home in tears. Her marking was judged to be outstanding by the school. Head appealed the decision and attempted to correct many inaccuracies in the report – 70 pages! Judgement remains RI.
    I was also told that the inspection was triggered by a disgruntled parent’s complaint to Ofsted?!

  3. Clare comment > I really feel for you. This report sounds horrible and I think that in this instance you just need to do what you’re doing. Go back to the core of why you’re there and who you’re doing all the work for-for the children you teach, for their families and for their future. That is, in everything, all that matters. And the Oafs in Oafsted (credit to Pie Corbett!) can leave you to it. A good is still good. But you’re making a difference every day, which is more than most people do in a lifetime.

  4. Anonymous comment via email:: You may have been robbed of an Oscar but your article is assuredly on the shortlist for a Pulitzer: the analogy is exquisite. Indeed, Gotham City Primary School was inspected by The Joker and Penguin in the 4th week of this academic year. Batman, Robin and the good folk of the town presented a very positive picture of significant improvements since the R.I. judgement in 2012. In fact, Commissioner Gordon (aka the region’s Senior HMI) had paid a monitoring visit just the week before the vexatious villains descended and had pronounced Gotham City a fine metropolis in which citizens could thrive and flourish.

    Alas, the blundering buffoon and decidedly fishy flightless bird delivered an explosive cacophony of BAM! BIFF! BOFF! and KAPOW! Sadly, the bat-utility belt had no antidote for such a dastardly attack. So, whilst the caped crusaders consider how to repair the damage and devastation caused by the inspection, the good folk of Gotham City sooth their scars by sipping from their depressingly large barrel of bitter wine… hic!

  5. Jan Preston comment: I completely sympathise with you and your team. I am a teacher in a primary school where our previous Ofsted was very similar to what you experienced. We all said how rude the team were and how shocking the unfair comments were. Last Easter we were done again and what a difference! The team were pleasant, polite and very generous with their positive remarks. They were very professional and seemed to be really interested in the children as individuals rather than just the paper statistics. It seems inspectors are only human and sometimes you get good ones and sometimes not so good. Interestingly our last inspection was a very positive experience for all staff and we got outstanding. But I agree there is a lack of consistency with Ofsted inspector and the process.

  6. Alice__M comment: The whole “inspection” system implies some people “in the know” and the “others” i.e the anxious, inferior shaky people. Grading a school as “merely good” is to make sure the two status never change, and the anxious teachers will forever strive to reach the graal of “outstandingness”. I think any evaluation should be formative,collaborative, encouraging and unthreatening.

  7. Jan L. comment: It is vital that people continue to share their experiences, and – however subtly – blow the whistle on a process that is increasingly discredited. We know what it SHOULD be like – we’ve read the memos and the twitter meeting notes and the press releases. So we have a responsibility to let it be known when our experiences are different from those published – we have to get it out there and shame the perpetrators for undermining the professionalism that is there in so many of our schools.

  8. Reblogged this on Teaching and Learning and commented:
    A great reflective blog post by the man himself @TeacherToolkit. There is some real gold and insight shared here that not only provides some insights into the mechanics of the current inspection process but some ideas and scope to develop some strategies and changes to practice that need consideration… not just to ‘satisfy the inspector’ but strategies that could develop the quality of learning in our school!

  9. Anonymous comment via email: Really feel for you Sir, had similar experiences. Feedback was to ‘make differentiation more obvious to observers’ before requires improvement grading. You can’t win – this was a class of 18 using google translate to teach science in 6 different languages! Was threatened with capability if didn’t resign hod post then SLT completely denied this after I did!

  10. Anonymous comment: Sounds like a carbon copy of our inspection 2 weeks ago. The dip in our reading data was an unspoken limiting factor, yet no inspector observed any guided reading and only 10 mins of a Y1 phonics lesson was seen. No teaching at all was observed in Reception. Our EYFS apparently lacked the ‘wow’ factor, but the inspector who said that wasn’t interested in looking at any evidence of the enrichment we deliver – he could only comment on what he saw during the inspection. The fact is that we could all have worked rather less hard than we do and still been graded as 2. The ‘good’ band is now so wide as to be meaningless, both to teachers and parents seeking information.
    Please treat this confidentially, our report is not yet public.

  11. But you got “good”. Does it matter that you did not get the frankly arbitrary and ephemeral “outstanding”? From various reports about Ofsted’s inconsistent judgements, I don’t understand why we give their judgement validity by worrying about it. You clearly have a great school and do more in one day to improve the life chances of young people than the average Ofsted inspector will do in the whole of their career. Forget about chasing outstanding and just carry on what you are going so well.

  12. ASnon. Comment: It is now 5 years since I experienced a very similar thing when head of a primary school. Your analogy is perfect – wish I’d thought of it! And still when I talk about it it sounds like sour grapes and I still feel upset and angry about the injustices perpetrated…
    One of the judgements on our report was overturned following our complaints but guess what? It remained on the report. The whole process was shocking and in contrast to the other 3 inspections I’d experienced without a rogue inspector wanting to wield some power and throw a spanner or two in the works.
    Crikey – I really need to get over this don’t I?

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