Love them or hate them, Ofsted inspections are the time-honoured way our authorities independently check to see if schools are performing well for our children.
I remember it well from my schoolboy days – being swept up in a confusing whirlwind of frantic reorganisation and hastily arranged projects, not really understanding what all the fuss was about.
Youngsters today can expect the same kind of treatment, only it will sting that little bit more thanks to Ofsted’s latest idea to introduce “almost no notice” inspections. Frightening stuff.
For many people, a two-day snapshot that pokes and prods into the working life of a school is simply not an adequate way of judging whether it’s performing well or giving the most to our kids.
We’ve all heard about the underhand tactics schools supposedly employ to make it through the dreaded inspections; stories of problem kids being taken on trips, sent on meaningless errands, rocketed into space – you know the kind of thing.
There’s no way of telling how many of these stories are actually rooted in truth or mere schoolyard gossip, spread from teacher to teacher; parent to parent like Chinese whispers in the playground.
One thing that is definitely true, however, is the emerging trend in schools of hiring qualified Ofsted inspectors to give off the record ‘academic M.O.T’s’ designed to highlight shortcomings that need to be addressed pronto before the inspectors come a-knocking.
And are you aware that a large percentage of Ofsted inspectors are actually sub-contracted to do the inspecting, thanks mainly to a shortfall in the number of HMI registered staff? You do now.
Why does this matter? It matters because anyone working on contract for Ofsted can, say, spend three days a week inspecting schools and the other two visiting schools, letting them in on the ways and means of jumping through the hoops needed to get hold of that golden Ofsted accreditation.
What’s the motivation that drives inspectors to perform such a selfless task – is it for the good of the kids? For the good of the school? Well, yes, and the cushty £600 a day price tag.
There’s something about this conflict of interest that just doesn’t sit well with me, on the surface it seems quite natural for schools to hire experts to see them through the notoriously nervous Ofsted visit, after all, who better than someone that administers the test in their everyday working life to drag you up to standard?
But hang on, at £600 a day not every school is going to be able to afford the luxury of such expert consultancy, and where does that leave those that can’t?
There’s a clear advantage to be gained for the wealthiest schools here. Coupled with the fact that schools rated as ‘requiring improvement’ or worse often have cash flow issues at the core of their strife, we’re potentially looking at a scholastic North/South divide.
Every year we have to put up with a chorus of bleating about how exams are getting easy and kids nowadays are merely taught to pass them by memorising a set of facts rather than through garnering any deep understanding of the subject matter over the course of the year.
For me, this new approach to passing Ofsted inspections is no different – schools are paying for information on how to get those boxes ticked, missing the point that inspections are intended to improve the running of schools by identifying weaknesses and highlighting areas where improvements need to be made for the benefit of the kids, and no one’s bleating about that are they? Well, there’s me I suppose.
Ofsted say it has no plans to stop its contracted inspectors carrying out this tasty bit on the side and HMI registered inspectors are not permitted to carry out such consultations.
But given the shortage in HMI registered inspectors the contractor culture at Ofsted isn’t likely to be ending anytime soon.
I can see the obvious advantages to this kind of consultation, but I ask you this: would you rather your kids’ school shelled out £600 a day for information on how to tickle Ofted’s tastebuds, or for substitute teachers, computers and books?
I know what I’d prefer.