I have another confession to make: I like the idea of being an Ofsted inspector. In fact, I think I would love it. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love being a classroom teacher. I can think of no other job in the world that provides the same daily intellectual challenge, the same comical anecdotes, and the same sense of accomplishment.
I suppose you can put it down to an element of educational voyeurism. There is something deeply compelling about the idea of seeing a school putting its very best foot forward (and of course I know that an Ofsted inspection is but a slice of reality, often finely homed and deeply counterintuitive). I like the idea of seeing hundreds of lessons, and interacting with hundreds of teachers and school leaders, and finding out what they do, but even more importantly, why they do it.
So, turns out I don't hate Ofsted.
I used to. But that was an ignorant, irrational kind of hate, and it makes no sense as I reflect on it.
Of all people, it was my head teacher who started to change my views on Ofsted. He told me "Kyle" - he has a very paternal tone of voice sometimes - "think of it this way: they see thousands of schools every year. What other organisation do you know of that has the ability to do this?" And I really couldn't think of one. Of course, the Unions have that kind of experience, but on the whole they don't do the same kind of comparative analysis and data collection. So I thought some more.
He was right. They have more experience than anyone else. They see more teachers, see more students, and see more schools than anyone else. They keep meticulous records. They publish thousands and thousands of pages of documents every year. They have a very good PR strategy. They annoy the Education Secretary.
But, that discomfort remained. I needed to figure out why.
So I did more research, and stumbled upon a live Guardian chat session with Ofsted's Deputy Director for Schools, Tom Winskill, who said to me:
"I fully support the notion that schools should not be spending time 'preparing for Ofsted'. A school where good teaching is simply what happens day in day out so that pupils achieve well need not worry about being 'Ofsted ready'."
And that was it. It's not Ofsted I hate. It's the things that schools do in the name of Ofsted.
It's every time I heard "Ofsted wants it that way," when I genuinely believe that this is not the case. It was every time I've been told "Ofsted wants a lesson plan" when, again from Tom Winskill: "It was never there - there is no instruction or requirement for teachers to provide a lesson plan should they be observed by an inspector." And in fact the requirement to know student data in an observation is as much the responsibility of the member of Leadership observing alongside Ofsted as it is the class teacher's.
I did some more looking. I came across a profoundly excellent blog/website from an inspector named Mary Myatt, who seeks to dispel some of the enduring mythology of an Ofsted inspection through the use of plain language, evidence, and her own experience. In fact, her description of an inspection almost makes me want to be inspected (knowing fully that she would find my areas that require improvement).
Do I accept all Ofsted practices without question? Of course not! Here are some remaining areas of contention:
I don't love the second economy created by private, Ofsted-trained inspectors who can also sell their taxpayer-funded training in the form of private consultancy.
I don't love the fact that there is no differentiated guidance available which shows a different approach to inspecting SEN schools (although I acknowledge some of the flexibilities available to SEN schools because of this. I further acknowledge that inspectors who inspect SEN schools receive additional training in this area).
I don't love the idea that schools are put into categories, and that "requires improvement" is akin to failing. Good grief, this is the worst one! I have been to some truly incredible schools, and seen some truly inspirational lessons, but I have never in my life seen something completely devoid of an area for improvement.
I don't love the idea that people's jobs and livelihood are on the line. The pressure on my SLT to "get an outstanding" must be equal to or even greater than the pressure on me as a class teacher.
There is no Ofsted where I come from. Someone asked me the other day "then how are schools held to account" to which I was (finally!) able to use the reply "accountability starts where responsibility ends." Schools are fundamentally responsible for their students' education. I have never been in a school that doesn't take this responsibility seriously.
Can't Ofsted support, rather than inspect this responsibility?
I don't love the perception that RAISE Online data is the spine of an Ofsted inspection, and worse, I don't like the idea that an inspection team might arrive with their minds already made up, looking (maybe) to be proven wrong.
But I still don't hate Ofsted.
As always, I value additional comments and feedback.