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My school is currently preparing for a fairly imminent Ofsted inspection (only its third ever). Ofsted must be by now around 11 years old. It is therefore an interesting time for me to reflect on both the impact Ofsted can have on a school and the impact Ofsted more generally has had on the teaching profession and the teaching process. I would like also to share the experiences and insights of others on both these matters

We are a successful school with good exam results and excellent value added. We have TC status and have just been awarded ICT Focus school status. We were informed that “the men in black” would be descending upon us just before the Summer holidays since when I have been struck by the extraordinary effect such news has had on my colleagues. Once sane and confident professionals suddenly lead extraordinarily turgid meetings on the difference between lesson objectives and lesson outcomes, memos fly around like leaves in an autumn storm asking for policies, handbooks, statistical analysis, record books etc etc – the confidence in our ability to do what we invariably do very well as extremely hard working professionals, and more importantly focus on it, has apparently been knocked out of us by the nature of the external threat….

What is really marked is the effect on colleagues of a certain age. Self doubt seems to be most keenly felt amongst teachers in their 40’s 50’s and beyond. In our school these are ironically the groups with the most creative, skilled and effective teachers. The teachers who are experienced, qualified and flexible enough to deal with the working class secondary modern non selective intake we have and issues this brings on a day to day basis.

I have been mulling over why this is and have come to the conclusion that over the last ten years we have witnessed a seismic shift in our understanding of what constitutes good teaching, professionalism and accountability not all of which has been for the good.

Ten years ago what constitutes a “good lesson” was at the very least and quite rightly a contested concept. The retired folk that made up the first wave of Ofsted inspectors used to sit down in teams and watch a range videos to get “a feel” for satisfactory, unsatisfactory and good. A little down the track inspectors were issuing guidelines that a good lesson “might” include a range of features, and now we have arrived at the rather odd and faintly Stalinist point were a good lesson “must” contain a whole list of prescribed ingredients

This formulaic approach in my view leaves little professional space for the older teacher to exercise his or her judgement, knowledge or experience. In fact knowledge and experience would appear to be weaknesses if not backed up by policy, paper and standardised lesson plan.

Teaching has apparently become something a technician does through the application of centrally and bureaucratically created missives, documents and “strategies”. In fact the logic of the overarching policy would seem to be that in claiming to concentrate on “learning” the craft or art of “teaching” is to be lost for good. Individual learning plans to be developed for each child and delivered by an army of semi skilled classroom teachers? I hope I am not the last man in England to believe that good teachers differentiate, motivate and inspire intuitively and by virtue of their subject knowledge, experience and teaching skills?

My greatest concern is that these processes will have the long term effect of forcing these creative, intelligent and thinking professionals out of the job, to be replaced perhaps by obedient operatives doing as they are told.

As for Ofsted 11 years on – have standards really risen? Has the aggressive style of inspection, labelling and closing helped schools and children in the last 11 years? Is the teaching profession better or worse equipped to educate the young?

I shall log on tomorrow to see what people think - I'm off now to work on Wednesday's "Objectives" :D

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I like Andy's reflections on an OFSTED inspection. OFSTED is symptomatic of the check-box mentality of the DfES and the naive belief that everything can be measured according to a prescribed set of criteria. The same kind of mentality was becoming evident in HE at around the same time that OFSTED was set up - which is one of the reasons why I decided it was time (in 1993) to accept the early retirement package that was on offer.

I am not sure that I could be classified as one the "creative, intelligent and thinking professionals" to whom Andy refers, but I would like to think so, and I could never have become an "obedient operative doing as I was told".

Life is much better outside the teaching profession. As a free-lancer in a small business partnership, I can do more or less what I like, walk my dog whenever I like, take holidays when I like and stick two fingers up at the bureaucrats in the DfES.

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Guest Chris Sweeney

It is too late in the day for me to be able to be as analytical as Andy's last questions deserve, but I have to say that as an - able, if I may say so - teacher in the fifth decade of my life, what Andy said about how OFSTED inspections affect my age group resonated deeply with me.

You have a very real point Andy. And well put: "Once sane and confident professionals...."

Are you sure that you and I have never met?

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Chris highlights one of Andy's key points that I missed:

"Once sane and confident professionals..." - "once sane" being the key phrase.

It's being going on a long time - since Ancient Greece:

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad."

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I am old enough to remember HMI and LEA inspections. These were far different in nature to Ofsted inspections. The main reason was the main objective of the HMI or LEA subject adviser was to help you become a better teacher. The quality of the advice given varied enormously, but it was nearly always a worthwhile experience.

For my sins I am a trained Ofsted inspector. I had enjoyed doing advisory work and I was told this would come to an end unless I went on the appropriate Ofsted course. However, after undergoing this training, I was unwilling to play the role of inspector. One of the things they constantly stressed was not you were an inspector and not an advisor. It was not your job to try to help people to become better teachers. We were told not to provide personal feedback about the lesson you had witnessed. In fact, it was pointed out that conversation with teachers should be kept to a minimum.

The inspection criteria was a joke. As Graham points out, it was dominated by a “tick-box” mentality. It was very important to Ofsted that its inspectors did not think for themselves. It was clear they could not be trusted to do that.

It is probably true to say that Ofsted has got rid of a few bad teachers. However, I believe it has forced a far higher number of good teachers out of the profession. Creative, inspirational teachers do not respond very well to tick box inspections. Some have been willing to play the game and act their way through the inspections. (That is the way I coped with them). Others have found this impossible to do and have moved onto more satisfying employment.

Each year Ofsted reports that far too many lessons observed employed standard textbooks. What do they inspect, creative lessons? They know they cannot go far wrong if the ape the ideas included in textbooks published by the multinational publishers. The system demands robots and that is what it gets. The young teachers, brought up in an education world of tick boxes, can fit fairly easily into this mad system. In time, there will be no one left who remembers what the old system was like. Nor will they be aware that things could be done so differently.

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John writes:

Creative, inspirational teachers do not respond very well to tick box inspections. Some have been willing to play the game and act their way through the inspections.

I visited a local school that has an outstanding record of achievement in modern foreign languages, but what the teachers were doing in their lessons and the ICT materials they were using (which is my area of interest and the main reason for my visit) were clearly out of line with what OFSTED requires. I asked the Head of MFL about this. Her reply was something along the lines of "We just fall into line for the inspection and then carry on doing our own thing".

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I have been very interested in the responses so far to my Ofsted angst. The crux of the matter to me is Ofsted's role in what I see as the deliberate and pre meditated shift in focus away from teaching to "learning" (inverted commas to denote heavy cynicism).

Arguably anyone can deliver so called differentiated pre set programmes of study - perhaps this is the model of the vast army of unqualified housewives educating the next generation. Clearly the legal change to allow non qualified staff to take classes last year could be seen as part of this process. It would certainly be cheaper and less troublesome for the government.

It is also significant to me that no one ever discusses pedagogy anymore, they simply refer to their Ofsted Framework. I tend to see this as part of a general and deeply damaging process of deskilling.

This is perhaps the root cause of the high levels of anxiety amongst older staff.

As to Ofsted's long term impact, I cannot believe that the aggressive model of inspection, naming and shaming, serious weaknesses, special then desperate measures(!), (and the further round of damaging inspections that these involve), and ultimately the closure of schools, can do anything to improve the education of the young.

It is more expensive and much harder to support, advise and improve problem schools and to develop weak staff. It would also be much more ambitious for a government to attempt to tackle some of the structural problems (like poverty) which cause underachievement and difficulties in schools. It will always be cheaper, more attractive and easier for politicians to keep thrashing the teachers, so I guess Ofsted is here to stay. :D

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The system demands robots and that is what it gets. The young teachers, brought up in an education world of tick boxes, can fit fairly easily into this mad system. In time, there will be no one left who remembers what the old system was like. Nor will they be aware that things could be done so differently.

As I read your posting I was reminded of the dialogue between Winston and O'Brien in 1984 about whether the Party would be able to bring about a permanent change in human nature. At the time Orwell probably thought that it would, but nowadays I wonder.

I'm convinced (emotionally, not rationally) that a good school system will re-emerge one day, since this control freakery ultimately doesn't work. People will, unfortunately, have to start again from Year Zero, but perhaps there'll be enough bits and pieces left behind for people to rebuild from (perhaps contained in fora like this one and certainly from all the good schools and teachers who are managing to resist Ofsted and the like).

In the meantime, of course, teachers like me who also remember LEA inspectors - and, dare I say it, in-service training courses run by the ILEA - can earn money for old rope! You don't have to be very good to be better than what's currently regarded as quality! (Yes, we suffer from the same tendencies in Sweden.)

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Do not forget that OFSTED inspectors can be asked to teach a demonstration lesson to show teachers what they ought to be doing. I suggest you choose the class with care and videotape the results for staff training purposes .....or the Christmas party depending on the outcome.

One adviser in West Sussex has had the courage to do this and rose in my estimation and the estimation of the other teachers who were there to observe. Don't tell me how to be a better teacher. Show me.

Edited by Derek McMillan
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Provoked by this debate I would like to add a few points from a Hungarian context:

1 We have our own Ofsted, and we call it Spanish Inquisition. Their Inspectors are ex-teachers who

- can never show in their own classes what exactly they mean by quality,

- can never see what is happening in any class they visit when they do not happen to be there,

- have clean forgotten most of the limitations within which we all have to operate,

- want to measure the unmeasurable, and express in quantuums the unquantifiable, i. e. the helping relations in classes, the horizontal learning – acquisition between peers, the students’ learning trends, and the changes in attitudes.

2 Quality is either in the training of the teachers, and then it should be managed in schools, or it is nowhere, and then no specification of standards, and no amount of inquisition can squeeze it out of the teachers.

3 A somewhat higher quality of our education can only be assured by a great deal higher quality of our teacher training.

4 A great deal higher quality teacher training is not possible through the reform of the existing teacher training institutes. A quantuum leap is not the sum of small steps.

5 A classroom observation without a helping intent before the visit, and without a helping attitude during the visit, is an educational peepshow.

Edited by leslie simonfalvi
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I've said this before, but I'll say it again. We have never had inspections in Tasmania -well, not in my time and that's 30 years, yet Australia comes among the top 3 or 4 in PISA and TIMMS international testing and our results are generally improving, not declining. While I'm not a 100% supporter of our newly imposed "outcomes based" curriculum, it does in fact concentrate heavily on pedagogy and the teaching of skills and competencies. So, why does the UK need Ofsted, if we don't, but are no worse off without it?

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John writes:

I am old enough to remember HMI and LEA inspections. These were far different in nature to Ofsted inspections. The main reason was the main objective of the HMI or LEA subject adviser was to help you become a better teacher. The quality of the advice given varied enormously, but it was nearly always a worthwhile experience.

The downward slide occurred when there was a shift from advising to inspecting. As a Newly Qualified Teacher in the 1960s, I was grateful for the help given by my LEA's subject adviser. He would sit in on my lessons and, over a cup of tea afterwards in the staffroom, offer helpful advice. I never had the feeling that I was being inspected. The LEA's advisory service offered courses for Newly Qualified Teachers and we had a good relationship with the Education Dept of the local university, whose staff were also very helpful.

As David points out, "control freakery ultimately doesn't work". It was control freakery, which manifested itself in senior management no longer TRUSTING managers and staff lower down the scale, that wrecked the institution for which I used to work. And now it's wrecking our whole school system.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Do not forget that OFSTED inspectors can be asked to teach a demonstration lesson to show teachers what they ought to be doing. I suggest you choose the class with care and videotape the results for staff training purposes .....or the Christmas party depending on the outcome.

Don't tell me how to be a better teacher. Show me.

That thought cheers me up Derek! I'll bear it in mind ... we have only 4 weeks before the 'invasion' begins so all ammunition must be ready! :)

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  • 3 weeks later...
Do not forget that OFSTED inspectors can be asked to teach a demonstration lesson to show teachers what they ought to be doing. I suggest you choose the class with care and videotape the results for staff training purposes .....or the Christmas party depending on the outcome.

Don't tell me how to be a better teacher. Show me.

That thought cheers me up Derek! I'll bear it in mind ... we have only 4 weeks before the 'invasion' begins so all ammunition must be ready! :ph34r:

As someone who teaches in the same fine seat of learning as Maggie I have to say I see the forthcoming unpleasantness more of a gross inconvenience than an invasion.

I also need to point out that regretably Derek is wrong. One cannot demand that an inspector give a demonstration lesson. Invariably they are consultants who might just consider the option if the school is a relatively peaceful one and the price was right :angry: However one cannot demand such a thing.

I remain deeply disturbed by how the threat of Ofsted has distorted the educational practice of my colleagues and in some cases caused them real harm in terms of their physical and psychological well being.

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I remain deeply disturbed by how the threat of Ofsted has distorted the educational practice of my colleagues and in some cases caused them real harm in terms of their physical and psychological well being.

So do I Andy! It even started to get to me this week despite all my good intentions, and I consider myself to be pretty level headed. I don't think any of us has been unaffected by this experience but I really wonder whether the replacement system will be any sort of improvement. The threat of a visit from those 'men in black' will be with us constantly if they come in every 2 years at a couple of days notice...surely not a recipe for reducing teacher stress or for improving the education of the students in our care! B)

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