Why Ofsted is like Al Qaeda

I’m so fed up of work at the moment, I’m in a permanent state of grumpiness. Whenever I’m in a staff meeting, my mind drifts to this sequence from the Robert Redford movie The Natural, in which the “losingest team” is browbeaten by a “sports psychologist” who keeps saying, “Losing is a disease…” Our school seems to be under permanent cloud of imminent Ofsted, and has been more or less as long as I’ve been there. Of course, with the ever-shifting goalposts and ideological interference coming from Murdoch’s Man at Westminster, Ofsted becomes a vague, demonic shadow in the way.

Like many teachers, I think my management team have got the approach to Ofsted all wrong, and in particular I think they’ve lost sight of what the job is supposed to be (teaching students and helping them pass exams). It’s not that I think there’s a “right” approach to Ofsted, but I think the “what do Ofsted want?” question needs to be unasked. I appreciate that peoples’ jobs are at stake, but this kind of pressure should not be transmitted to staff, who are powerless to do anything about anything and should be instead focusing on the classroom and getting the best possible outcomes for their students.

Before we go much further, how are Ofsted like Al Qaeda? Well, in several ways. Let’s start with threat level. As I said at the start, my school has been under a permanent Ofsted shadow for as long as I’ve been there. We’ve been graded 3 three times in a row – all for different reasons, of course. So the threat level, as long as I’ve been in teaching, has been hovering towards the top (the top being Special Measures) in the same way that the country has been on Orange Alert since 2001/2004. Basically, the terrorists changed everything (and as Dawkins opined, won) and we’ve been living in their world for over 10 years.

So we’re living in Ofsted’s world, on permanent Orange Alert. The other way Ofsted is like Al Qaeda, though, is that neither organisation really exists. I remember hearing years ago that AQ is an idea straight out of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. There are a number of separate cells but no central organisation. Ofsted are the same. They’ve been privatised, and different inspections in different parts of the country are undertaken by different agencies. Don’t believe me? Here’s a line from education.gov.uk:

CfBT Education Trust, Serco and Tribal Group respectively provide inspection services for Ofsted in the north, midlands and south of England. See their websites for further information:

In other words, you might be inspected by people who work for Serco, the same people who might run your local swimming pool. They’re recruiting, by the way.  This is the same company currently under investigation for fraud. Or you might be inspected by Tribal, who seem to have a habit of failing schools so they can be taken over by academy chains. No conflict of interest there.

So constantly asking “what do Ofsted inspectors look for?” is missing the point that the various private companies involved have different agendas. Doesn’t matter what Wilshaw says in speeches, the inspectors on the ground follow their own policies, and there’s very little central control or consistency. Loads of evidence for a complete lack of consistency in fact.

The notion of the “Ofsted trained” inspector “advising” schools is a total lie. Serco do their own training. These people taking money to give talks and INSETS are like the Chicago mob “advising” a local restaurant on fire safety. It’s a racket, in other words.

In the end, the level of self-scrutiny and navel-gazing demanded of teachers is far in excess of what is expected of any other profession – most of them far higher paid. Teaching is a job I do for the pay, the pension, and the holidays. If I happen to be good at it, it’s because I’m a generally competent person, and not because I agonise over my practice or pore over data tables. It’s a job. And if you want me to be that self critical and constantly improving my performance for year on year, then pay me accordingly. At the moment, I’m not paid enough to give the job a second thought after I drive off site at night. So what am I doing here?

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