Ofsted: the most unfunny joke in education
My favourite Ofsted joke:
Q What’s the difference between a cosmetic surgeon and an Ofsted inspector?
A A cosmetic surgeon tucks up your features, but an Ofsted inspector …
Seriously though, an impending Ofsted visit is enough to have the heart of the most stalwart teacher hammering away. The lengths that some schools will go to in order to get that much-coveted ‘good’ grade would be amusing if it were not so tragic, and would provide enough material for a separate blog of its own. What I will share with you here are some examples of how Ofsted changes its goalposts to keep teachers twitching for weeks after they have left the building.
First, at the risk of sounding smug, I have to mention that, before the incidents I write about here, I had been watched by five inspectors at two different schools and every judgement had been ‘outstanding’. Yet this did not fill me with confidence. I knew that the whole Ofsted rigmarole was a game and that I had been lucky to have been watched by fair inspectors and with reasonable classes. I knew that a good or outstanding teacher needed to produce much more than the items on an Ofsted inspection list and that these needed to be produced at every lesson, not just when performing for Ofsted.
Anyway, things were about to change.
During an inspection about four years ago, I was working with a bottom set English class, and as with many bottom sets it contained a few difficult characters. As well as those students who had recently immigrated from Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and various places in the African continent, there were those who had made the choice not to engage in lessons.
Of course, this was the only lesson of mine that day honoured by a visit from an inspector. My heart began to pound and my hands began to shake as she sidled into the room, wearing a grin that would be worn by the Grim Reaper following a natural disaster. I’d just managed to get the class settled and now they were fired up again. She did not seem perturbed by the curiosity of the less socially aware in the class: ‘Ooos that?’ ‘Woss she doin’ ‘ere?’ ‘Is you ‘ere to watch Sir? He’s crap!’
I indicated a vacant seat next to Mandy Wagstaff, the girl whom I suspected hadn’t been near a bath or shower in the past twelve months, and attempted to calm the class again. Then I psyched myself for the inevitable carnage.
The students had been given a quick starter activity to complete in pairs and got started on that. As with all things for students at this level, the resources were designed to be visually appealing and fun in order to have any chance of engaging their interest.
During a normal lesson, all the students, no matter how sullen and disengaged, would join in with this. But of course this was not a normal lesson: there was a new audience to impress and the added knowledge that teachers live in fear of Ofsted. Let the fun commence.
‘Siiiirrrr! Luke just chucked some paper at me ‘ead!’
‘No I didn’t you fuckin’ liar!’
Without stopping what I was saying, I walked over to Kylie’s desk, picked up the ball of paper then wrote Luke’s name on the board, as per the school’s behaviour policy (which was devised by a member of SLT who didn’t actually teach so didn’t know how ineffective it was).
‘Oi, you daft twat. I told you I didn’t frow it! Why have I got a warnin’? You’re always pick…’
‘Luke, you swore and that gets you a warning. I’ll come and speak to you about it in a while.’
At this, Luke stood up, kicked his chair across the room and stomped towards the door where he stopped and glared at the inspector. Pointing at me, he shouted, ‘I ‘ope you sack this fuckin’ bastard. He picks on me all the time!’
To the sound of applause and banging on desks from others in the class, Luke made his exit, slamming the door for good measure.
Quickly, I gave the students a two-minute activity linked to the lesson so that I could, as per the aforementioned school’s behaviour policy, send an email to the Key Stage 4 leader informing her of Luke’s departure. I felt the need to conduct a commentary of my actions to the inspector, conscious that this was further disrupting the lesson. I could see her scribbling away, much to the delight of certain members of the class.
Eventually (and about five minutes behind the planned schedule) I was able to get the students working on the activities I’d planned for the main part of the lesson. As all the students were strugglers, there seemed little point in assigning myself to work with a particular group: I knew from experience that would mean little or no work from the others – unless you include pictures of deformed genitalia in books and on display boards – so I walked around the classroom during the activity, giving prompts to students as and when I got to them.
Again, had this been a normal lesson most of the students would have had a go, with just three or four waiting to be prompted at every step. I made a point of visiting the real strugglers first, but while I was trying to translate the instructions for our latest Polish student, something kicked off at the other side of the classroom so I went over there quickly to sort it out. Ryan had drawn an interesting version of a penis on Charys’s book, so Charys had retaliated with what looked to me like a cauliflower but, as she informed me delightedly (and loudly) ‘It’s me nan’s minge, Sir!’
And so the lesson continued thus. And while this was going on, the inspector was ‘interviewing’ students about their targets and progress and what they enjoyed/ didn’t enjoy about English lessons. This was perhaps the most animated some of them had been since they’d started school.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this lesson was not graded outstanding. The amount of work I’d invested in preparing that lesson wasn’t even considered. The differentiation I’d employed to allow for barriers such as language/ emotional turmoil/ anger management and not possessing a brain were ignored. All the inspector could say was that I should have worked with a small group and left the others to work independently.
I tried to explain the reason for my decision not to do this with this particular class, but she was not to be swayed.
She also commented that I hadn’t included any ‘mini plenaries’ throughout the lesson. Again, I attempted to explain that, due to the amount this group manages to take in throughout a whole lesson, any mini plenaries would in fact be microscopic plenaries, but this carried no weight.
The behaviour of certain members of the class, she informed me, was due to the fact that the level of activity was inappropriate for this group. She could not elaborate on whether it should have been more or less challenging and was unprepared to believe that in a normal lesson the level is just right. I’d been teaching them since September so I knew them a lot better than she did, but this cut no ice with her.
The following day I was observed with the same group by a different inspector – a man this time. The behaviour was almost identical to the previous day’s except that Luke lasted five minutes longer. I made sure that I worked with a single group during the main activity and stopped the class at ten minute intervals to remind them of what they hadn’t learned so far.
At the end of the lesson (and within earshot of several delighted students) this inspector informed me that I was wrong to work with a small group and should have walked around the classroom helping students as and when they needed it. Oh yes, the behaviour was my fault because the lesson was not appropriate. He could not, however, give me any actual advice as to how this could have been more ‘appropriate’ and even had the temerity to say,’ You’re their teacher so you’d know them better than me’. Quite!
From that day, I swore that I would teach each class how I saw fit and bugger the advice from those who did not have to teach my classes. I also swore that the next time an Ofsted inspector ambled smugly into one of my lessons, I would inform the class that they were about to see how it should be done, then sit down at the back and watch the fun.
Incidentally, the pass rate at the end of the year was my best ever – and the best in the whole school.
So, some more Ofsted jokes:
Q How many Ofsted inspectors does it take to change a light bulb?
A Six. One to change it; one to read the plan on how to change it; one to observe the changing; one to write it up; one to assess; and one who doesn’t seem to have a purpose, but it makes for an even number.
As for the one about how many Ofsted inspectors it takes to destroy this country’s schools and thousands of careers … Not many. And that’s not even funny.