A good week for an inspection?

This week could be a good week to be inspected by Ofsted. That is, if the lead inspector is Welsh.

Some time in the not too distant past my school was inspected at around the same time that the Six Nations Rugby tournament was on. Our lead inspector was Welsh and it was in one of those years that Wales won the Grand Slam.

I remember that at the start of the inspection we had proverbially shot ourselves in the proverbial foot. Although we knew we were doing a good job and had the evidence to prove it, we had toned the achievement section of our self-evaluation from ‘good’ down to ‘satisfactory’. It is not a wise idea to be self-deprecating in these documents. The first thing the lead inspector said was – “so as a leadership team you claim to have moved the school’s achievement from ‘good’ to ‘satisfactory’. I that’s true it would mean that you have inadequate leadership, so I must put you into a category.”

We spent the next two days proving that our achievement was actually ‘good’ and as a consequence came out with an overall outcome of ‘good’.

The point of me saying all that, was that our inspector had given us a chance to get right what we had got wrong in our self-evaluation. I have spoken to other school leaders who have told me that their inspectors would never have given them such a chance. Our inspector was fair to us, generous even, some might claim, in giving us that chance. Was this because he was a nice guy? Is it because all Welsh people are nice? Or was he in a more positive mood because Wales were winning in the rugby at that time? Or could it even be that actually most Ofsted inspectors are actually pretty fair people?

Looking back over the Ofsted inspections I’ve been through – eight in total – I have to say that most of my experiences have been pretty fair. I’ve been praised for good stuff and criticised for under-performance. There are one or two disappointments – like the time when I saw the inspector coming to watch my outdoor PE lesson, but it was a grizzly day – he just stopped in the corridor for a minute or two and then moved on. Or the time when Ofsted came a-calling in the penultimate week of the Summer term. I was teaching Year 6 at the time and my plans revolved around perfecting the Leaver’s Production. Neither the inspection or the Production went particularly well for me that year.

Back to the inspection in question and I happen to know that the lead inspector wrote up his report over the same weekend that Wales won the Grand Slam. He wrote words in his report such as ‘blistering pace’ to describe one particularly good lesson. His report was particularly effusive I thought – colourful even. Did this partly result from his positive mood caused by Wales winning? It could well have contributed something. Yet, he was also fair with his criticisms and gave us good guidance on how to improve the school.

We have to face facts – Ofsted inspectors are individuals not robots. They have real lives with ups and downs just like the rest of us. Some of them will even have favoured teaching styles that they prefer to see. Catch them on a bad week and you might have to work harder to convince them of the job you are doing. But the inspection system is still in the main doing a good job, a far better job than the other main accountability measure – league tables. All league tables do is make schools turn the assessment system into a game to be won or lost, rather than use it for individual students to measure their success.

If you get the call this week, good luck and remember to stay positive. I even hope your inspector is Welsh.

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