A cheer for Mr Gove!

It seems that schools will continue to have 48 hours notice of inspection. A cheer for Mr Gove! The chance that Heads may be missing for inspections has been averted.

Any guest walking into our school on any given day would observe outstanding learning taking place. I am confident that anyone with any experience in education would sense it immediately. So why did the prospect of no-notice inspection so vex the profession? Respected educational commentator and Tweeter, Geoff Barton argued for no-notice inspections in his blog post, whilst acknowledging he may be a lone voice (#couldbetheendofaniceweekend).

In my opinion, Headteachers need to be present when Ofsted call. During our last inspection, there were 3-4 interactions that could not have been delegated and we have an outstanding team. There was a surprise safeguarding issue and an unplanned fire alarm evacuation, requiring quick judgement and visible leadership when the school was under pressure; the lead inspector wandered in and out of my office with disheartening parental questionnaires raising issues that only I could say with confidence hadn’t been brought to the school’s attention previously. And only I could make the judgement to call in the lead inspector, sensing that something was being missed in the narrative they were building. Many school leadership teams are outstanding and the head is part of that team; their absence would be felt.

Inspectors take less than 48 hours to make their judgement. They miss things.They aren’t as familiar with context and the judgements they leave schools with have a lasting impact. It would be an act of extraordinary hubris for a Headteacher to remain at a distant conference with Ofsted unpacking in the school car park saying, “I practise distributed leadership; they’ve got everything under control back at the ranch.”

Children’s education will not be harmed by this change. In fact, it could be argued that removing the permanent anticipation of no-notice visits, when your school falls into the window for inspection, may mean teachers feel a little less embattled and slightly more creative. I don’t think teachers need this lingering threat. They do a great job because they’re professionals, not because they’re scared of sudden observations. The idea that 48 hours notice gives schools enough time to concoct some kind of alternative reality is actually quite insulting.

Let’s not call it a u-turn. We need to encourage politicians to listen to the profession and adapt their policies (especially when they’re being made so quickly).This is a welcome adjustment from Mr Gove.

9 thoughts on “A cheer for Mr Gove!

  1. Thank goodness for that! If senior staff didn’t have their two days notice then when would they have time to sweep under the carpet any poor teaching practices? When would they be able to give the intensive warning to their students that they need to be on their best behaviour? When would they have the time to completely alter the school to fit the needs of the inspection agencies?

    Needless to say, I don’t really agree with the sentiment of your post. Though I recognise that the best schools don’t need to alter their teaching practices too much, it is undeniable to say that certain schools across the country do change most of their learning environment to fill certain boxes that are looked for by OFSTED, and other regulatory bodies. The scrapping of the 48-hours notice system ensured that the school visited by the inspectors was indeed the school that is being run all year round, and not some huge farce that has been concocted over the two days previous to the inspection. Now, though I am aware our school doesn’t have this problem to an extent, it is obvious when OFSTED are in school. All the students are told to be on their best behaviour, and I’m sure certain teachers are too.

    What I think should be done is exactly what the coalition had planned to do. Scrap the notification given to schools, and let the true educational environment lay bare before their inspection. If a poor school is told that they are to inspected, massive changes can be made in two days. If a poor school is not notified of their upcoming inspection, the reason they are failing is highlighted. As I’ve said, the changes may not have affected Devonport High School for Boys too much, but it is allowing poor schools to continue to operate, and continue to fail, as the mask they wear for OFSTED is remaining firmly in their back pocket, thus not allowing the inspectors to highlight areas for improvement.

    This is one move by the coalition I will certainly not be welcoming, and I really do hope they reconsider.

    1. Anon

      I think the previous post is perhaps a little naive.

        1. Pete Robinson

          Dylan, you need to understand the impact on the progress of students if schools receive unfair judgements. It’s not a chance to sweep things under the carpet, more an opportunity to get out evidence ready to present! When OFSTED calls, they have a focus, which they discuss with the head. They are telling him what they want to see in particular as well as teaching and learning. This notice period can make the difference between the OFSTED inspectors seeing a skim of evidence or the full picture. It would be like us marking your coursework by weight, title and preface without actually reading the material within. Views like yours are very arkehic and biased, not supportive of an education which will put you head and shoulders above the rest.

          1. Dylan H Morris

            I’m not quite sure how a school receiving no notice before an inspection means they will receive an unfair assessment though. I understand that if OFSTED need to see more than just teaching and learning, prior notice is somewhat required, but if the prior warning laws were removed, it would be impractical for them to ask for anything that could not be produced immediately. I’d say that views like mine are the very views that will put the best schools, such as ours, head and shoulders above the rest as it gives us a chance to show the regulatory bodies exactly what we’ve got. It also gives poorer schools the chance to be highlighted and dealt with, as OFSTED see them for what they really are, rather than as some rehearsed charade.

          2. I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments, Dylan. Every school child in every school is told to be well-behaved when OFSTED come in; many teachers also visibly improve when there’s the potential of an inspector sitting in their classroom – this creates an unfair representation of the school. Parents deserve to know the true, year-round evaluation of a school when choosing to send their children there, rather than the one generated through extra preparation by teachers and improved behaviour by students over a couple of days.

            At some schools, as you’ve said, there are fundamental failings which can be covered up quite substantially if prior notification is received. The only way to address serious concerns with schools is to first have a complete picture (or as complete a picture as possible) of the school – without any artificial additions – to deliver real, meaningful improvements.

            I do, however, agree that there could be difficulty in a good school being able to demonstrate certain capabilities without advance notice. But to be very honest, we need to prioritise our methods around improving the worse schools rather than fairness to the good schools. It can’t be about the schools, it must be about the students, and the students at the worse schools deserve better than they currently get. Focus on them, and remove notification of impending OFSTED visits entirely, for them.

            That being said, whether OFSTED can be considered a competent body to rectify those issues is debatable in itself.

          3. (Disclaimer – I’m not a teacher/pupil at this school, but live with a teacher in Bristol)
            The problem I see with the box-ticking and very short-term nature of inspections, is that a teacher has to cram several facets of what constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘excellent/outstanding’ lesson into one lesson; sometimes it is just not possible to convey the material while ticking all those boxes in one sitting (e.g. IT Skills, numeracy, literacy, group work, audio/visual etc.. etc..); it’s possible to devise a few lessons which showcase those skills, as a demonstration of the teacher’s ability to do so. The extrapolation, I suppose, is that through the rest of the year, those skills are included in lessons, but less intensively, and where appropriate. The ideal would be a more holistic view, and the acceptance that not every lesson in every subject can or should tick every box every time ; it’s all very ‘one-size fits all’, at least from what I understand. And what exactly are these ‘fundamental failings’ that schools manage to cover up in 48 hours? And surely even if they do manage to cover up for inspection, but then the grades tell a different story, there is further investigation anyway?

            Perhaps a bit of an alien concept, but teachers are humans too; the constant threat of a sudden inspection would be an unpleasant concept to be constantly dealing with; even the best teachers, who know they deliver excellent lessons every time, would still be stressed out (as would any student who was confronted with the thought of a no-notice assessment being sprung on them – even if they were an A* student consistently though the year, because of the fear of the unknown). Furthermore, it’s not just students who carry their grade sheets through life…the teachers carry them too (and have to justify low grades to senior staff, at least in the experience from other schools I’ve heard of), and carry them to their next job as a record of their capability. So having a good inspection is not the be-all and end-all for a teacher’s career anyway.

            What you would probably effectively end up with, in a system of no-notice inspection, would be much more regimented, prescripted courses, detailed to the letter with no chance of unpredictability (so no creativity, no free discourse with the teacher unless allocated as a 10 minute slot, etc.. etc..). Think about it; the unpredictability would necessitate the scripted nature, so that there’s no chance of an experimental lesson (as in, a teacher trying a new idea, or lingering on one aspect of the lesson because that’s how the the mood was taken on the day) if it might not tick all the right boxes should there be an inspection. Either that, or the ‘grades achieved’ vs. ‘inspection boxes ticked’ would even further lose correlation because in reality, some lesson structure/content/delivery is just necessary for the material, but doesn’t necessarily lend well to the tick-box form, and so the whole exercise becomes even more meaningless.

          4. Obviously no-one wants a school to be judged unfairly. I’m afraid I think it’s very true to say that “to sweep things under the carpet” is common practise under the current system – how couldn’t it be? Even the best schools have some things they’d rather not be judged on – should we really give them the opportunity to create some kind of “alter-ego” school? DHSB felt like it was at the absolute top of its game during the last inspection – I’d really love that to be how the school is required to run every day (in order to be considered outstanding). Shouldn’t it?

            I’m very happy with the idea of a detailed dialogue between inspectors and staff. I can 100% relate to the idea that staff need to be told what to show to the inspectors but I do think this system could still be compatible with a no-notice inspection. Come in, have a look around, and then talk to the senior staff. If something suddenly changes in the way things are happening, then you know that might not be typical of the school’s daily running. That’s a comprehensive perspective.

            Finally, I don’t think it’s fair to be so directly critical of Dylan. Sure, maybe he’s got some strong views, and argue against those if you like, but they aren’t unreasonably presented, and the link to this blog on dhsb.org does say “please read and start a conversation”. Voilà.

    2. Sarah Pope

      The way OFSTED works nowadays, there is no way that a school could be made to “look good” in 48 hours. Progress is looked at over a period of time, taking into account planning, marking, assessment etc. also, the suggestion that children are told to be nice to the Inspectors is slightly irritating, our children are expected to be polite to each and every visitor to our school. This is merely teaching good manners and respect.

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