First Experience of an Ofsted Inspection
First Experience of an Ofsted Inspection
Having recently been subjected to an Ofsted inspection and all the stress that brings, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on that experience and offer some insight into what it was like for a first timer like myself.
It began on the first day of the new academic year. The head teacher, having assembled the entire staff in the school hall for inset, warned that it had been three years since Ofsted’s last visit and that we should remain on high alert in anticipation of their visit.
Little else was said for the remainder of the inset day and pretty soon, hundreds of children were again gathering on the school yard eager to be educated by their new teachers. We relaxed and settled in to a steady of rhythm of planning, teaching and marking whilst managing the numerous issues that only 30 odd children from distinctly different backgrounds can bring to a room.
In those early days of the year, nothing was said about the dreaded Ofsted until eventually the word began to quickly seep through the ageing walls of our fine institution. First, it was in weekly staff meetings. Next, it began to be mentioned in written correspondence such as memos and eventually, without us even noticing it, the words “when Ofsted are here” became a regular utterance in day to day staffroom conversation. Before we knew it, Ofsted and their framework for inspection became part of our collective consciousness. Accompanying this, for newbies like me at least, was a sense of anxiety – a deep seated feeling of doubt that you might not be good enough and that you might be found out as someone who can’t live up to Ofsted’s lofty expectations and that you might let everyone down before you inevitably end up going insane. Pretty soon, almost every aspect of the job that I was trying so hard to excel in and to enjoy became a burden and my stress levels gradually went up and up and up.
Soon, I not only felt stressed and anxious but also guilty for not being a particularly pleasant human being in the eyes of my students. The complex cauldron of emotions I was experiencing worsened as the notion of an Ofsted visit began to make more noise around the school like a poltergeist – unseen but profoundly obstreperous. Contingency plans were put in place as though this was the Cold War and we were hapless civilians stockpiling tinned food while awaiting an inevitable devastating strike from the Russians.
“Be ready,” warned the Head, “make sure that you have planned in advance.” So we did. Soon, my computer desktop displayed a folder entitled ‘break glass in case of emergency’. And we continued to wait. In the meantime, a ‘mocksted’ was arranged with the school improvement team which for me at least was a disastrous knock to my confidence as my carefully planned lesson fell apart during a nervous observation. After that, I dusted myself off and saw out the remainder of the spring terms relatively uneventfully as we began to breathe a little easier thinking that Ofsted wouldn’t possibly want to visit us in summer. But they did…
The call came on a Monday afternoon and I remember how the atmosphere in the school began to change. On one hand, the anxiety reached new heights as word began to spread and members of the leadership team were called to emergency meetings. On the other hand, a sense of defiance and an attitude of ‘let’s just get it over with’ began to prevail.
A busy evening in school until around 8:00pm was followed by a night of restlessness at home. The next morning we were in full battle mode and ready for action. Arriving at school far earlier than usual, we were greeted by the inspection team in a specially scheduled briefing. To my surprise, the trio of inspectors consisted actual human beings rather than the shape shifting reptiles I had feared they would be. However, never one to be lulled into a false sense of security, I allowed the adrenaline to take over and I took up a hyper vigilant state making final checks to make sure all my lesson materials were ready and that my class were lining up sensibly when the bell rang to signal the start of the school day.
The first inspector arrived during my English lesson. With clipboard in hand, they entered almost undetected and seated themselves at the back of the room. Despite all my anxiety during the build up to the inspection, I was surprisingly calm and my lesson went swimmingly as a result.
Following the lesson, the inspector offered me feedback during the lunch break. She was very complimentary much to my delight. “You have created a culture of industriousness and a sense of calmness in your classroom,” she said. I smiled and nodded politely and thanked her for her comments as feelings of relief emanated from my pores.
The next day a male inspector came to observe my maths lesson which also went very well. Again, feedback was offered to me during the day’s lunch break and again I was pleased with the praise I received as well as the valid, constructive criticisms he offered. “Ensure a deeper understanding of the concepts within your students,” he advised before letting me know that he wasn’t impressed by interactions between me and my teaching assistant that were intended to challenge the most able. “Can’t win them all,” I thought to myself whilst also congratulating myself on another job well done.
The rest of the inspection passed without significant incident and eventually normality was restored as we got back to the business of teaching students in a way that was organic and natural to us and that would ultimately ensure the best possible outcomes for their time at our school. In the days that followed, some of the more caring/nosey (delete as applicable) parents from the school would occasionally stop me in the street to ask about the outcome of the inspection. Of course, we knew nothing at this stage but sooner or later, the school received a favourable verdict from the inspection. Many of us were delighted and although I sensed disappointment from some that didn’t matter. It was over for another three years and we had gotten through it unscathed.
Reflecting on my anxieties now, it all seems so silly that I felt that way about something which turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant experience. We were lucky to have had kind inspectors and a sensible leadership team to guide us through the process.
However, I feel sad to know that others have not been so lucky. I hear stories and read in print that many lives and careers have been wrongly ruined by inspectors working for an organisation using a framework that is politically motivated and does not have the best interests of the nation’s children at heart despite claims to the contrary. This, combined with the ‘luck of the draw’ nature of inspection teams and them subjective nature of the inspection process, is what makes me question the system and its culture of excessive box ticking that creates so much anxiety and ill health within Britain’s schools.
Having said that, if you’re reading this as a teaching newbie like I was and you’re feeling anxious about the whole thing, take comfort in my story as I found this first experience of inspection to be insightful and affirming of my abilities as a teacher.
Thanks for reading! Good luck!