An inspector called
In the wake of any Ofsted inspection, there is inevitably much poring over the entrails of how the judgements were arrived at; the characteristics of individual inspectors; the fairness or otherwise of the judgements themselves, etc etc etc. These discussions are generally laced with much contempt for the entire process.
Of course we are forced to use every argument, measure or piece of data in our favour. One inspection team may differ from another and one inspector may play 'soft cop' to the other's 'hard cop'. But all this is incidental to the heart of the matter. It is not a question of whether this or that success is recognised or not; or whether this or that Ofsted judgement is in our favour; or indeed whether an individual Ofsted inspector genuinely attempts to be "fair".
The structure of the inspection regime is designed for a purpose: to entrench privilege, selection, elitism and competition in education; to enforce divisions between schools, between teachers, between students and parents at different schools, and to exert state control over the curriculum and the teaching profession. Everything else is subordinate to this.
So inspectors come into the school/college for a snapshot visit; they proceed to "make judgements" they have already pre-determined (within narrow parameters) by reviewing the "data". They are almost never current teachers and rarely "outstanding" by any common understanding of the term. They are mediocre, uninspiring individuals. Some have themselves led "failing" colleges or departments (as any quick check of Tribal's list of inspectors could reveal) and have decided that inspecting others is a less risky and onerous business than being inspected oneself. They work from a totally prescriptive copybook (sorry "Inspectors handbook") that anyone could follow.
The inspector is precluded from suggesting strategies or engaging in the sharing of experience between staff or institutions. The whole point of an inspection is to reinforce competition between individual teachers (e.g through promoting performance pay) and between institutions.
So an inspection becomes more akin to a "campaign of war" than an educational review. This "war" is openly acknowledged by both sides. The first meeting on day 1 of inspection will set out the terms of battle. Evidence is marshalled and "emerging issues" rebutted; staff are mobilised to produce more "evidence"; each side holds campaign meetings at the beginning and end of the day to plan the campaign for the next 24 hours. The school/ college appoints a nominee through whom the terms of engagement are passed on.
Normal business is suspended and the college goes into lockdown. Lessons are conducted for observational purposes only. "Feedback alert - email to all staff: inspection team has an emerging issue - use of VLE in classrooms!" Managers disperse to ensure all staff amend lessons for the day to include VLE, whether necessary or no. The college will never be cleaner than during an inspection.
At the end of 4 or 5 days judgement is delivered. If "good" or "outstanding" everyone breathes sigh of relief, goes to sleep or gets drunk. Gradually the college/ school recovers and gets on with the business it would have done before it was rudely interrupted.
If the judgement is "needs improvement" (once "satisfactory") or "inadequate" the school or college starts to throw everything to the wind again in order to prepare for another inspection in a year's time.....
Of course we have to try to ensure that we force Ofsted to recognise success. But if we are to defend a high standard of education for all, regardless of background, wealth or privilege, than one of the essentials steps will be the abolition of Ofsted.
Articles on this occasional blog reflect particular areas of political interest. My intention is not to duplicate excellent material available elsewhere but to include comment on current issues of debate where this may, hopefully, be useful.