As a teacher, like many other teachers across England, I was recently faced with the dreaded words "OFSTED will be here tomorrow". I have never known 5 words to fill me with such dread. I began to question the lessons I had planned for the week, I questioned the direction I had decided to take my class in, I questioned the displays that cover the wall and I questioned the quality of my marking.
That evening, I meticulously went through every single thing I could think of in case, when they arrived at 8am the next day, they would be looking for that one thing I had forgot to check. I finally got in my car at 9pm to drive home where I continued to work and made lists for extra bits I wanted to do for the following day. I changed my alarm to wake me up an hour before I usually get up and I made sure I was in work a hour before I usually was. I then spent a restless few hours going mentally through everything whilst laying down instead of sitting up. I think exhaustion finally won for a few hours in the early morning.
At 5am the next day I woke up, got ready and was in school for 6am. I then spent the next two hours fretting and organizing, questioning everything once more and making up packs so that the inspectors saw exactly what I wanted them to see. At around 8am, after the inspectors had spoken to the head, we all obediently made our way into the assembly hall to hear from the inspector. They told us to get on with things as we usually would, to show them a normal day, I almost verbally laughed through lack of sleep when I thought of all the "usual" things I had done the day before and that morning.
The day was full of fraught nerves and tearful teachers, children probably being told off a little more strictly and shaky starters and petrified plenaries. Being told I "appeared nervous" in my lesson observation feedback (they were probably in for about 15 minutes in total but it felt like an hour) actually made me feel slightly delirious. Of course I was nervous, my entire profession, my years of training and work were being judged by a 15 minute observation by someone who doesn't know me, doesn't care about whether or not OFSTED coincided with any other monumental life event, who doesn't know that the reason I repeated what the children said was because I have a child with hearing difficulties or that the reason I modeled every small part is because another child's needs are so visual it's the only way they comprehend as verbal explanations aren't useful to them. I was being judged by a complete stranger with an agenda I was not privy to.
I imagined what it'd be like in that moment, if I were to apply the style of OFSTED to my teaching. If I didn't give the children their success criteria and told them that I expect them to succeed and meet in regardless. If I judged whether or not they were good at something by their ability to show me so in fifteen minutes. If I told them that at some point in the year I would judge them but that they won't find out when until the next day and even then they won't know when the exam is until I place it on their desks. If I didn't take into account their circumstance.
Now, of course, all teachers should be ready for OFSTED, they should have their books marked and their lessons planned, they should be using the data to decide how to target different children and they should be aiming to teach every child at their level. In hindsight, I was one of the lucky ones. Whilst I was observed, I actually found out slightly before so I could calm my nerves and run through my lesson in my head once more, but I know of teachers from my school and others who were dealing with unimaginable upset and heartbreak in their own lives and were then expected to be these perfect teachers in their professional lives for the sake of one day to be judged by strangers.
So after all this negativity, why am I thankful for OFSTED? I am thankful because it reminded me how much I value my decision to leave teaching. I am beyond petrified for next year. I have no idea how I will earn money or where I will be after I have finished my masters but OFSTED has proven to me that it doesn't matter. I would prefer the unsettling feeling of the unknown over the pure stress and dread of OFSTED a thousand times over. OFSTED has the ability to bring an entire school to its knees, it has the power to judge people by seeing them for as little as 5 minutes. It can judge the ability of a school by what it sees in a few classrooms.
I'm actually glad I got to experience OFSTED before I leave teaching, my only regret is that I didn't show them my "normal" classroom. The one where I go completely off topic because that morning a child asked me something and I decided to follow a crazy idea where I show them how rivers are formed using a bucket of sand. Every single one of my seven year olds can tell you what a tributary and meander is now thanks to that idea! But, alas, it wasn't on the lesson plan and OFSTED would not of approved my unstructured, plan free moment of learning!
- A Twenty Something