Ofsted – what are they looking for?

Posted on 14th August 2016 by Joan Ashley
A man writing on a sheet of paper

This week’s blog post is from a guest author – Joan Ashley. Joan has 28 years of experience in mathematics education, both as a teacher and an ITT tutor. In this article Joan takes a look at some of the myths and realities surrounding one of the less welcome events in the teacher’s calendar – the Ofsted Inspection…

Inspections: then and now

There have always been school inspectors. When I started teaching they were local authority employees; each had a specialism and geographical patch. In the days of “probationary teachers”, they were gatekeepers to the profession, determining who was allowed to enter. They knew the schools on their patch well and were able to assist head teachers by sharing the good practice they had observed on their travels. They acted as informed critical friends with whom educational challenges could be discussed and resolved.

Fast forward forty years and what have we now? We have a very different model of inspection, carried out by Ofsted. Complete strangers are parachuted into schools for a few days to make a judgement on the quality of the education it offers. Inspectors spend a lot of time looking at “the data” and award the school a mark out of four. Having got to know the school quite well, and identified strengths and weaknesses, they then leave.

Wouldn’t it be so much more sensible if they were able to stay, to use their knowledge and expertise to help the school to improve?

A bad press?

I’ve taken part in Ofsted inspections as a school chair of governors, a teacher and a parent, in most sectors of education from primary to HE. I don’t particularly like being scrutinised and judged but I take the view that if I am doing my job properly I have nothing to fear, and if I’m not I need to know about it.

In an ideal world, inspections wouldn’t be necessary because schools would be providing an optimum service for all their learners. Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal work, but in a world inhabited by real people, some of whom “could do better”.

It seems that there is a need for some form of external quality assurance, currently Ofsted. This organisation gets a bad press because it is believed to add to the workload in schools, but closer examination shows that this need not be so.

Let’s debunk three of the myths surrounding inspections.  Quotes below are taken from the Further education and skills inspection handbook and Ofsted inspections – clarification for schools (the emphasis is my own).

Myth 1 – Inspectors expect to see detailed written lesson plans.

Ofsted says:

Myth 2 – I need to teach an Ofsted style lesson.

Ofsted says:

Myth 3 – All learner work should be teacher marked and commented on.

Ofsted says:

Summing up…

An assessment or inspection of any kind can be a stressful occasion (unless you’re the type that enjoys the limelight of course!).

However, as we can see from the excerpts above, a visit from Ofsted should make no difference to your workload. In the words of one senior inspector, Ofsted are looking for “consistent use of successful teaching strategies based on sound educational principles”.

Surely no one could disagree with that?

Photo credit: Helloquence