Since the dawn of the original Ofsted inspections back in the 1990s, during which lesson plans were scrutinised, observations could amount to many hours per week for individual teachers, and the extensive notice period led to months of ever-increasing stress in some schools, the spectre of Ofsted has loomed large in the psyche of teachers. There are tales aplenty of inspection experiences, some funny, some horrendous, some supportive, but over the decades since its inception, inspection has changed, as have the people involved in the process.
The current incumbents at Ofsted are adamant that preparation for inspection is not necessary. They do not want to see schools spending time and energy on being inspection-ready. A spokesperson for Ofsted told us: “Schools (or other providers) don’t need to do anything to prepare for inspections. The idea is that we see the school how it operates on a day to day basis. If a school is providing a good education for its pupils, then the inspection will take care of itself.”
That said, the Education Inspection Framework (EIF), which sets out Ofsted’s inspection principles and the main judgements that inspectors make, combined with the Inspecting the Curriculum Guidance, which explores inspection methodology for the “quality of education” judgement, make important reading for those working in schools that will be inspected by Ofsted. This will help to develop familiarity with the current terms in use and the general direction of travel for inspectors.
In a blog published on the Ofsted site, Head Teacher and Ofsted inspector Sean Flood describes what it is like to inspect under the EIF. He reports a move away from scrutiny of data and towards the observation and discussing of work. The “deep dive” into curriculum subjects, he explains, “allows the school time to talk in rich detail about its teaching in different subjects.” This can entail curriculum leaders knowing the finest details about, for example, the progression of a subject and topics within it over the year groups in the school. Perhaps we might expect that in secondary schools this would be a given, but in primary schools and in particular small primary schools, where curriculum leads may not receive any time or money to perform the role, could this be a challenge? Not only this, but there may also be pressures on staff to prepare for deep dives, regardless of what Ofsted says about categorically not preparing for Ofsted inspection.
Education consultant and writer, Paul Garvey, suggests that preparation for Ofsted should not affect classroom teachers at all, “apart from talking the right language to back up the school in conversations with an inspector.” He says that teachers should “just do the day job!”
“The weight should fall on leaders and managers, and they are not being judged individually, in the slightest. There is no need to lose sleep!” he says.
Ofsted has published and updated a myth buster which seeks to confirm facts about what is and what is not expected in inspections. For example, in the document we learn that (among others) individual lesson plans are not required by inspectors, that Ofsted does not require self-evaluation in a specific format, that pupils’ work does not need to be of a specific quantity and feedback simply needs to be in alignment with the school’s policy. When it comes to evidence for inspection, inspectors do not expect to see anything beyond what is set out in the inspection handbook, and as many governors or trustees as possible are invited to meet inspectors during an inspection.
With all this in mind regarding inspections of the future, we do still have to acknowledge that while for many, the historic experience of Ofsted is overwhelmingly positive, you do not have to look far for stories of pain and enormous upset as a result of an Ofsted inspection. For some this has led to premature retirement or a dramatic change of career. For others, their mental health has taken such a hit they are no longer working in education. So perhaps the most obvious way in which we can “prepare” for Ofsted, in a regime which insists that no preparation is necessary, is for each to focus on personal wellbeing, to encourage a spirit of support, collaboration and camaraderie among staff and to have confidence in the direction of travel for your school. Is there anything else that matters more?
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.