Take No Notice.

My school had been looking into the abyss for some time. Every change that could be made had been. Scores of outstanding schools had been visited by SLT; the spiel by the magic bullet merchants had been carefully copied and revealed to teachers. New initiatives had replaced the revolutionary changes which superseded the bold new strategies. The pace of ‘innovation’ was frantic, but these were acts of uncomprehending desperation as if an infant was trying to manage a moon shot: the real meaning of ‘ethos’, the importance of discipline and the necessity of engendering parental partnership were all unappreciated. Nothing had worked and the results were poor. The anti-OFSTED talismans had been adopted: consultants employed, the training done, the ‘preparing for OFSTED’ book authored and explained. Maybe the grim reapers could be persuaded to pass?

The messenger stalked the corridor on that fateful day with a fixed rictus whispering “they are here, meeting at 8.40”. The smiling assassins introduced themselves. They had clearly been indoctrinated in the new orthodoxies: there would not be grades for lessons, they did not want to see detailed lesson plans, they didn’t expect to see anything special they wanted to see the school as it usually was. So far so good. In fact, so far so much better. No notice had prevented the SLT frightening meeting, the planning forms, the ‘see you at your best’ assemblies, the ‘for schools’ sake do Parent View’ letter, the last minute marking catch-up, the lesson re planning to ‘tick every box’. Brilliant! Perhaps this really was a new era.

The inspector arrived in the latter half of the lesson. The class had finished their group activity, had been de-briefed and the learning points elaborated, they were reading out loud a summary from the text. The inspector picked a book and flicked through the pages cursorily, then another, how odd. The class began writing their responses to the text summary questions in silence; time to give the inspector the full picture. They were shown the annotated seating plan with pupil information, the lesson outline and a full synopsis given, other exercise books were presented for scrutiny and pupils introduced with an outline of their progress to allow questioning. The inspector didn’t seem to be very interested: even more odd. The inspector began writing the EF but without quizzing pupils or reading their work carefully or the marking comments. What was going on?

At the end of the day the inspector was hunted down for feedback (it hadn’t been arranged earlier). Group feedback was offered. The good bits of what was seen were shared to the group; it was anonymous as individuals were not specified, sounds even better. The BUT was looming and here it was: Behaviour… Wait, we had been just told good, now apparently not all good. Differentiation, we had been told of examples, now apparently not enough. Challenge, just told of excellent examples, now generally not enough. Each challenge from the lesson or from examples the inspector had quoted was met with “yes but this is group feedback about the overall picture”. The mask had slipped, the Beast was the same. The judgement had been made and the observations were simply to find the evidence for it; it wasn’t an investigation, it was a justification. As the inspector was escorted back to their room they happily chatted about their consultancy and long experience though not recently in their own classroom of course. Incompetent idiot was the impression given, wouldn’t employ them to watch the dinner queue was the thought.

It got worse. There were doubts about their appreciation of the likely reduction in results nationally due to exam changes, there was an argument about the law on the curriculum and finally the school machine gunned itself in the foot with an unfortunate administrative accident played out in front of an inspector. The judgement was ‘confidential’, and obvious. The axe had finally fallen.

Within weeks the effects became apparent, retirements announced, the ambitious sprinted to interviews before the smell of a failing school could stick. Soon the pushy parents will move their children, jobs will be un filled, rolls will fall, budgets tighten and the results languish in their unsatisfactory blueness. There will be monitoring visits to condemn again until there is an ‘unassailable case’ for closure.

Another casualty of OFSTED. Another saveable school put down. Another Academy established to be closed and re-launched in its turn as the malaise embeds itself in the community and the disempowered gaze at the corpse that is continually re-dressed.

Take No Notice of incompetent inspectors, Take No Notice of judgements based almost wholly on exam stats, Take No Notice of a ‘Brave New World’ of inspection and sadly, it seems that you can’t even Take No Notice inspections. They were a briefly painless euthanasia.

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3 Responses to Take No Notice.

  1. If “Nothing had worked and the results were poor” and there was “uncomprehending desperation” in the actions of the current leadership (including, presumably, the governors), what do you think should have happened instead of special measures?

    • bottomsbray says:

      In the current context there is little alternative than an inadequate judgement and all that follows. In earlier times the inspection would have had a more rounded picture of a school which required improvement but was clearly salvageable. In the best of times HMI would have spent some time with the school and SLT and engaged the Local Authority to obtain policy change and improvement. The point is: what brings the needed improvement for the local community? Not what we have got as has been proved time and time again.

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