Yesterdays announcement that OFSTED intends to carry out 40 ‘unannounced’ inspections this month seems to be a very odd state of affairs. It has been suggested that these will be of some of the worst performing Schools in the country. Although there are 1000’s of Schools that according to recent OFSTED inspections know they perform worse than their peers, there will only be a handful that will be inspected on this occasion. However many times that number will already be preparing for the worst as they see it, just in case they are on the list. Anyone who has ever worked in education knows only too well how disturbing it is to be inspected. No matter how illogical the case may be, when an Inspector calls (or in the case of OFSTED for Schools a team of Inspectors) the whole School attempts to change its focus for the 2-3 days of the inspection from educating or managing the students to ‘pleasing’ the Inspectors. The stress on students, staff and governors alike is something that we need studies to tell us about empirically, but it is certainly not helpful, based on countless pieces of anecdotal data.
The principle of an unannounced inspection is that you have no notice that it will take place. Much has been reported of the accusations that insiders have tipped off the better connected and more powerful Schools of an impending inspection in the past. However even amongst the less well connected Schools, there are many signals and measures that help Schools to know if they are likely to be on the current short list. However using the BBC to ‘not announce’ an inspection is surely one of the most perverse decisions that OFSTED have taken in recent months.
What we need are School Inspections that do more than simply check how well the School is doing, but attempt to identify resources and support that the School could benefit from. The decision of previous Governments to allow OFSTED to set an overall ranking for Schools must be ended. It cannot help parents to think they are sending their child to one of the best Schools in the area, or that as a result of capacity their child has been allocated to the worst performing School. What would much better would be for them to understand the strengths of the School they are currently looking at, its overall ranking is something that is so temporary that the result may be different by the time their child has its first lesson. It was revealing watching the James Rhodes Channel 4 ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ programme last week. One of the Music Teachers who spoke to James explained how despite several OFSTED Inspections, and his interview by several Inspectors, that they had never once asked to observe him teaching the children. This suggests that there is something desperately wrong with some of these Inspectors.
If OFSTED Inspections produced a more positive outcome for students, staff and the parents of future students, all of us would benefit. The benefit of unannounced inspections would then be clear to all. No need to plan for a good result, because the Inspectors are not looking for a pass or a fail, instead they are looking for strengths and of course weaknesses (by implication). However their analysis would offer a meaningful profile of the School rather than a Red, Green or Amber light. If they were interested in how well our children are taught, the School would benefit from investing all of its time in its educative activity, rather than the attempts to do better in the eyes of the inspectors who have the power to deliver a pass or fail measure in a very narrow context.