The Phone Call
Friday May 7th and after worrying about it daily since the beginning of the academic year, we get the call we’re to be inspected the following week. I was sitting in a meeting with a local university planning our next training day when the secretary walked in and told me of the call. When Ofsted call you quickly make yourself available and that’s what I did!
The first call is with the agents, who inform you of the fact that you are to be inspected and who your lead inspector will be. Frantic note taking is the norm at this point, even though an email minutes later confirms the details just given verbally. The second call, from the lead inspector comes pretty quickly after that. No matter how well you think you’ve prepared there is always that thought that you’ll be caught out. That the inspection will be a negative process that will destroy all your efforts. It’s hard to shake your feelings of doubt and see the experience as something positive at this stage!
Following that first phone call, comes an impromptu staff meeting to inform everyone, to reassure, support and advise staff. Then phone calls to governors, letters to parents and meetings with key people. It’s all done very quickly and everyone wants to know when school is open over the weekend, how late can they work, what to do about this, will they want to see that? Some people panic, some worry, some take it all in their stride and some see it as a chance to shine. It’s hard to second guess people’s reactions and subsequent responses.
Inevitably the weekend in school is very busy as we try to ensure the place is seen in its best possible light.
Meeting the team
Tuesday morning, the team arrived and we made sure we were there to greet them at the door. We provided them with an office space and took them down to meet the staff. The lead inspector attempted to put everyone at ease and most people certainly would have felt better about the inspection following his reassuring words. An all too quick tour of the school followed – one which allowed me very little time to talk about things as we went around the building. Before we knew it we were into class observations. The team left their office en masse, clipboards at the ready.
The Inspection – day 1
Following the first day of the inspection I couldn’t have felt lower. The UK’s school inspectorate can make you feel like this. Having been through many inspections I can honestly say this one hit me hard. The inspection process is now something that is done with you, rather than to you – this is what I was told and indeed I was party to a number of evaluations and conversations that have hitherto been held privately. Did this make the process easier? Better? More open? Possibly, in some ways, but ultimately the experience is about a range of judgements based on very shaky criteria and open to interpretation. Some teams are generous, some are more stringent.
Staff must have felt the decidedly miserable atmosphere around the place as we left on that first evening. I found it difficult to see any aspect of the experience as positive and can hardly say I was relishing another day of Ofsted.
The Inspection – day 2
We arrived for day 2 determined the team would see us at our best, witness some of the fantastic things going on around school and leave with an accurate picture of the school. It isn’t easy to do this as it relies on everyone pulling out all the stops, all technology working etc… The day went much better than the previous one and we all felt we’d had a much better experience. Meetings with staff, governors and pupils all seemed to go well and we began to feel a bit better about things. In the afternoon the inspectors met to decide on their judgements. As we sat listening to them deliberate over grades it was obvious there was a range of opinions based on the different experiences and observations of the team. The lead inspector made the final decision on all the judgements and much as I disagreed on a few of them, it was pretty obvious they weren’t going to change.
The team left us after reporting back to our leadership team and chair of governors. As always at these times there are mixed feelings – delight that certain things have been recognised, disappointment that other things have been missed, reassurance that your self evaluation has identified the same areas as the inspection team, relief that the experience is over!
I had been told by colleagues that this round of inspections had been their most positive. I have to say so much still seems to depend on the team you get. People will tell you that report is nearly all written before the team set foot in school anyway, based on your SEF, Raise online data and your previous inspection and there is definitely more than a hint of truth to this. It was pleasing to see common sense once again prevail regarding safeguarding – no one measured fence heights or tried to sneak in the building to catch us out over security.
I recognise the need for accountability in our schools – it’s the price we pay for the autonomy we enjoy, but I’m yet to be convinced there isn’t a better, fairer way to do this. I started writing this post as a real time journal during the inspection – it’s taken me this long to be able to put it together as the experience absolutely floored me. It’s not a helpful place to be. We have reviewed our action plan, taken on board the inspection team’s advice and celebrated their report but would I want to go through the experience again? Has it helped the school recognise anything we weren’t already aware of? Will it ultimately benefit the school community in any way? I have to say my answer is no.