Spoke too soon…

18 10 2012

A few days ago I blogged about the reasons that I love my job.

Evidently my Senior Leadership Team are monitoring my blog and are determined to ensure that I do not become compalacent, heaven fobid that I should forget what a tortorous job Teaching can be on occassion.

As I pressed send on my work email on Tuesday – submitting the Department Self Evaluation Form that has stolen my life for the last month – I heard the familiar ping of a new email arriving in my inbox.

MOCK INSPECTION starting…Wednesday.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rigorous checks and balances endured by teachers on a daily basis and the box ticking exercises we must pay lip service to, simply to justify our existance, I should inform you that any mention of OFSTED will cause the colour to drain from the most seasoned professional’s face. I should mention that SLT were empathetic that this was not a mock Ofsed the impact on classroom teachers during the process was identical to an Ofsed Inspection.

It is a process in which schools are visited by inspectors and make judgements about the quality of teaching and learning based on a series of (usually) 20 minute observations of lessons, intense interiews of senior staff and consultations with governors and parents. I would challenge anyone to be ready to submit their best work under such pressurised conditions when they dont know when and indeed if they will be observed and when you cannot determine which ‘difficult’ students, determined to sabotage your best efforts, will be in attendance that day.

What if you are teaching a bottom set following a wet break and are delivering a Drama lesson in the school canteen with tomatos strewn all over the floor? My teaching practice on these occassions would be seriously hampered by the difficult circumstances and while I believe that I deal with these situations well and get the most out of every lesson, it would hardly be fair to judge my performance in this scenario on an equal level to a lesson on a mild day, period 2, in a dedicated and purposeful teaching environment. However, as it is the quality of teaching and learning that is under scrutiny rather than my planning or ability to deal with adverse circumstances, so it really is a bit of a lottery.

When Ofsted last observed me, I was a trainee and the inspector remained in my lesson for 50mins! It was one of the most stressful situations I have ever experienced and the atmosphere was incredibly tense and very negative. At the time, I remember questioning the impact this must have had on the quality if teaching and learning in the build up to the inspection and immediately after it was over. With staff running round like headless chickens planning the ‘Perfect Ofsted’ lesson and making sure all their data all available and up to date, they must surely not have been focused on their non observed classes,  and when the inspecters left there were probably a few days of everyone breathing a huge sigh of relief and taking a more relaxed approach knowing they had 4 years to wait before enduring it all over again.

The idea of volunteering ourselves for a ‘practice run’ of this process is machochistic to say the least.

My biggest issue is that inspectors attempt to make judgements about someones entire professional practice based on a 20minute extract from one lesson. Its not like taking an exam where you know the criteria and can revise topics that you struggle with in advance, because kids dont come with an instruction book, there are too many variables and even the best planning and preparation can go out the window should there be an unexpected issue.

I recognise the need for checks and balances in every profession, and would not dream of suggesting that teachers should be exempt from observations. Nor are teachers unique in their loathing of management implimenting what can only be described as ‘santimonious twaddle’; and the provision of ongoing ‘professional development’ and ‘training opportunities’ that cause much rolling of eyes and grinding of teeth, (the nations optitions and dentists can sleep well in the knowledge that their jobs are safe): but it is fair to say that we get a lot of grief.

The ‘Not Mock Ofsted’ went very well for me but I know there will be a lot of demoralised staff over the next few days. Lets hope that any actual visits from Ofsted are far in the future.

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