Three months ago I moved to a world without Ofsted.
Not a bizarre, made-up fantasy world – like some futuristic utopia where schools and teachers and kids and parents and everyone learns stuff and lives happily ever after. No… this place is real. Its a different country. And there’s no Ofsted. Its weird and wonderful. Especially having been immersed in the English education system for my entire, not very long, career.
So here are my initial observations.
First, for a good teacher I think this is a blessing. Increasingly in England I was beginning to feel that bigger chunks of my time were spent compiling data that was simply serving Ofsted to show that my school was actually doing its job. I was spending less time actually teaching, and less time still actually thinking about teaching. In my final year in England I thought that I was a worse teacher than three years ago, which doesn’t make sense. But without the senseless monitoring and data collection, I can now teach. I teach good lessons mostly and great lessons sometimes. I’m now finding that my great lessons are becoming more abundant because I have more time to plan and resource them. Ask my students.
As a Head of Department I feel that every decision I make is about the students. I feel liberated as an educator. Of course I test my students. Of course I gather data and track the progress of everyone in my department – but its all done to improve their learning and to inform teachers (myself and my staff) what areas we need to focus on. And I don’t have to show progress through individual lessons or points within lessons. And I don’t have to get the students to document everything down so when an inspector comes knocking we can all prove to them what a great job we’re all doing. Some lessons involve discussion. Sometimes we even go out of the classroom to observe something in the real world related to what we’re learning about. And the students love it. They’re engaged and excited about my subjects. I’m happy and they’re happy.
The final analysis comes with results – a topic that has driven teaching for many years now. Like it or not, teachers and students live and die by their results. But what I’ve come to find is that if I can engage the students, grow their strengths, help them address their weaknesses and give them the time, space and support to develop, the results will come. And they are…
Is it all good? Well, I never thought I would say this but, no! There is space for something like Ofsted. Without it has been a liberating experience for me. But it has come with its frustrations. Some teachers clearly need an oppressive framework like Ofsted to motivate them to do well. Without it, I have seen some fall into a malaise of lazy practice. Dull lessons produce disengaged students, which I have witnessed during this transition. In some cases, I have been reminded of some of my own teachers back in the 1980s where the lesson plan said, “Copy pages 57-63” and that was as much input as a teacher gave. I can’t help thinking if Ofsted was around, you’d need to up your game!
So what are my final observations? I think most teachers are in the profession for their want to make a difference in peoples’ lives and this serves as the motivation to make the learning experience fantastic for their students. Furthermore, most teacher really care about teenagers which informs their day-to-day interactions with them. We don’t need an Ofsted to monitor this. Most of us do a fine job. But we cannot escape the fact that some teachers might just like the holidays, or knocking off at 4pm, or are that complacent about their practice that the care has just seeped out of them. Maybe this is where Ofsted come in. Overall I don’t think the constraints put on most teachers are necessary. I think if schools develop a good system of supportive coaching for their staff, most would be fine. A more efficient Ofted-less model might be to use a network of schools to perform checks and balances on each other – like a supporting friend – that can help teachers that are struggling but avoid putting constraints on the ones that flourish in a liberal environment.
I don’t know the right answer. What I do know is that I’m enjoying my world without Ofsted.