A sober breakdown of what to expect when an Ofsted inspection is announced at your school. With pictures of Homer Simpson for the sake of levity. Enjoy.
Stage 1: Denial
Out of nowhere, the call will arrive. News will filter through the school like so much playground gossip until an official notification is made by management. Ofsted are coming. Unless your school has been subject to an inspection in recent years, I would imagine that most Heads are poised for the call. That said, whilst the shock of the unexpected is felt by all, many if not most will assert a casual indifference. Thus, this initial period will be relatively calm as nerves only begin to bristle, and the reality of the situation is yet to become palpable. Note: some will immediately capitulate into a wide-eyed panic, but these individuals will be dismissed as over-reactors by the determinedly nonchalant majority.
Look out for: Nervous laughter, resigned shrugs of shoulders, conspiracy theories
Stage 2: Acceptance
Within 24 hours of notification, staff will be rounded up and given ‘the talk’. Ofsted are coming, they are real, they are looking for X, we must do Y and Z, etc, etc. At this point, a Head may iterate (and reiterate) the Ofsted focuses, for two main reasons: a) because it’s quite a useful means of focussing an as yet indifferent staff body, and b) because it suggests a level of control over the situation that a Head actually does not have. By the end of this stage, everyone will be in acceptance of the fact that Ofsted are indeed coming to scrutinise, pry, check and assess.
Look out for: cynical, political discussions, rolling eyes, grim nods, even more nervous laughter
Stage 3: Bewilderment
The level of bewilderment that follows Acceptance depends largely upon how ropey your department is. Conversations will bubble with talk of how many periods of teaching may be in the crosshairs, how many books have not been marked, the precise location of various sets of coursework, how many unplanned lessons need to be planned, and so on. Slowly, the enormity of the task ahead will dawn, as staff realise that they have to not only get through their usual week of teaching, but somehow produce evidence of excellent practice in every aspect of their professional lives. Conversations will also begin to resemble support groups.
Look out for: high-level empathy, some tears among fragile members of staff, piles of exercise books appearing on desks, lesson plan proformas on every computer screen
Stage 4: Panic
The first evening ahead of the inspection will be an evening of panic. The school will remain open late, nobody will leave, photocopiers will be in perpetual use. Staff will start rifling through ‘observation lessons’ of the past in the hope of finding something that can be rehashed into an Ofsted ready lesson and departments will gamely attempt to share ‘good’ lessons within their ranks. Even the most consistent teachers will begin to second-guess themselves and think in circles as they attempt to compile/ create a string of outstanding lessons during the course of one evening. SLT will be in crisis meetings, futilely attempting to fabricate some measure of control over the situation. Emails will come from said SLT re-iterating what has already been iterated. Rooms will be tidied.
Look out for: aimless photocopying, hours’ worth of cutting out for starter resources (that take 5 mins to use), blank stares into static computer monitors
Stage 5: Excitement
They are here. Whispered rumours of who has been ‘seen’ will ripple through the school and doors will be watched during every lessons. Adrenaline levels are high, so sleep-deprived staff will be wide-eyed and alert. Energetic lessons will be taught. Some staff will take their tension out on kids, resulting in strangely angry confrontations over very little at all. By lunchtime on that first day, a handful of teachers will have been seen and their relief will act as a catalyst for further tension in as yet unseen staff. Teachers who received a sly thumbs up by an inspector will regale colleagues with the anecdote, triumphant and elated at their success. The disappointment of not having been seen during your excellent lesson will be tempered by genuine relief.
Rumours about ‘incidents’ and initial impressions will flicker into life. Bold, brashy teachers will announce that the school is ‘going to fail’, while nervous teachers will… sit and be nervous. All the while, the general atmosphere is one of backstage on opening night of a theatrical performance, which, to some degree, an Oftsed inspection is.
Look out for: twitches at turned door handles, excited anecdotes, manic grins, strangely well-behaved children.
Stage 6: Fear
Relief over the completion of day one will very quickly transform into fear – a genuine, tangible fear of what is to come. Unseen teachers will realise that they will be seen. The school’s shortcomings will surface. SLT will start informing departments of their duties. Implied expectations will become explicit. Pressure will mount, and be exerted mercilessly on to individual teachers. The adrenaline of day one will dissipate, leaving in its place a weary anxiety, but lessons still need to be planned, resources made and ‘evidence’ produced. The second late night will have the bleak atmosphere of a condemnation. The morning of Inspection Day 2 will resemble a surreal Twilight Zone of abnormality, with teachers working outside of their usual habits and awareness of the real world having almost diminished to nil.
Look out for: lack-lustre attempts at ‘gallow’s humour’, actual physical illness, teachers sitting in isolation
Stage 7: Resignation (for teachers) and Absolute Panic (for SLT)
Over-worked, exhausted teachers will have lost all sense of perspective. Over-planned lessons will be printed and stacked defiantly in classrooms. The traces of fear may linger, but a resignation of fate will be apparent. Lessons will go ahead almost as normal and the fear that characterised Stage 6 will dissipate with each passing period.
Meanwhile, SLT will embrace Absolute Panic. The brutal fact of their lack of control will hit home as Ofsted inspectors wander into classrooms at random, defying any schedules or itineraries that may have been implied earlier (see Stage 2). Members of SLT carrying out dual observations will look on in hope at lessons they can do nothing to control, while teachers make or break at the ‘chalk-face’.
Look out for: wild-eyed madmen/ women
Stage 8: Relief
It’s over. The inspectors have come and gone, leaving in their wake a body of staff acutely aware of their own natures. You have seen your Head at his or her most vulnerable. The resolve of your peers can be measured. Individuals and departments who have been rated ‘Outstanding’ are heralded as heroes, whilst the ‘Unsatisfactory’ are already the subject of hushed conversations of woe. Either way, what’s done is done and what’s done cannot be undone. Everyone is relieved and, because, you have all worked about as hard as you can, you are willing to accept whatever the outcome may be.
Look out for: kind words from management, piles and piles of unread lesson plans, everywhere.
Stage 9: Recovery
Will take 3 to 5 days.
Look out for: DVD lessons, trips to the pub, extended periods of inactivity, reflective blog posts on the nature of recent Ofsted inspections.
Which one(s) are you? Click below…
And another related post: Top 10 Things That Are Currently Alarming Real Teachers