Tuesday 2 May 2023

A few thoughts about Ofsted for you to inspect. By Steve Way


I’m aware that many others, far abler than me have responded to the tragedy regarding Ruth Perry, but it’s important to me to share my experiences and thoughts relating to Ofsted inspections and hope they will be of some interest.


When I visited schools as an author, as a way of getting the children on my side (and hopefully subtly suggesting that I might understand what I was doing a bit) I would introduce myself by saying, “Hello, my name’s Steve. I used to be a teacher but I escaped.” The most interesting reaction was that of the teachers sitting at the back. Usually, this quip elicited a wry laugh, though occasionally it was met by stony silence and grim faces. Having been a teacher I understood both reactions.

Full-time teaching was the hardest work I have ever done. At the end of the day working with one class of 30 odd eight-year-olds I was often sat at my desk exhausted for around quarter of an hour before I was capable of movement. On leaving full-time teaching I did a lot of work as a supply teacher, which turned out to be a far more agreeable solution, for me anyway, particularly and conveniently doing a lot of work at a school only a stone’s throw from where I lived.

It was at this school that I witnessed the frightening event of an asthmatic teacher having a panic attack in the staffroom at lunchtime, a few days prior to an Ofsted inspection. Her colleagues who were nearer when this began rushed to support her and I could only look on helplessly. Fortunately, with her friends’ support she calmed down and recovered but for a few horrible moments it looked as though things could have ended very badly.

On several occasions I had worked alongside this particular teacher and I knew that she was exceptionally skilled and dedicated. A teacher who under no circumstances should have been concerned about having her professionalism and practice ‘inspected’. Her alarming collapse occurred on the day of a ‘pre-inspection’ visit and in a further ironic twist of fate I came across the head of the inspection team sitting in his car outside the school, when I was popping home for lunch. I happened to know him and knew him to be a good man and a fair critic. He had previously been the headteacher at a school I was working at very early in my career. Even though I was far less experienced and definitely less able than the teacher in question, after spending time in my class, he gave me generous and helpful feedback. However, despite my efforts to reassure my colleagues that afternoon it was clear that the fear of the dreaded Ofsted meant these reassurances fell on deaf ears.

The fact is, even with good people such as this man representing Ofsted, the fear and tension, however unintended, before an Ofsted inspection parallels that of the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition and to paraphrase Michael Palin, ‘No one should expect the Spanish Inquisition.’ Interestingly the inspector explained that he was eating his sandwiches in the car as he didn’t want to upset the teachers while they were having their lunch. Of course, it was already too late but surely significant that he realised how uncomfortable his presence would have made them due to his role.

Inevitably these inspections have an impact on the children as well. I once visited a medium-sized primary school in Huddersfield the week after an inspection to share my interactive maths and science-based stories. Normally after a few minutes of my terrible jokes and daft stories I could get the children to respond to me (‘I used to be a teacher but I escaped…  ho ho…’) but the hundred or so children in front of me looked as though they’d all been attacked by a pack of dementors. It was like trying to kickstart a motorbike with no petrol in it.

I would advocate a change of name. I think they should all be ‘advisors’ not ‘inspectors’. I know some are but it should be all of them. Generally, in order to become a professional teacher these days, trainees need to get through at least four years of higher education and a probationary year. When the PGCE group I was a part of had our first session with one of the lecturers, he looked us over and then declared, ‘Well, you’re not in it for the money.’ I also don’t think, after so much time and effort, they/we weren’t ‘in it’ to be awful. I also believe that vast majority of teachers would always appreciate helpful and supportive advice to enable them to be even more effective.

One of the lessons learned by parents through the awful experience of Covid seemed to be that many realised that perhaps teaching wasn’t as easy as it appeared to be after all. The old stereotype of teachers having it easy because of their long holidays seems to have largely been exploded at last. During all but a few weeks of the summer holidays you are either recovering from being completely knackered or preparing lessons. Sometimes after telling the ‘but I escaped’ joke I would explain that the reason I escaped was because I couldn’t do it. I genuinely couldn’t. I don’t think it’s boasting to claim that those who know me would say I’m a hard worker but there’s no way I could have managed full-time teaching for the whole of my career and I totally admire those who do. I think we should value them highly.

1 comment:

Paul May said...

Great post Steve. I completely agree. I only escaped when I finally retired. Thanks!