Why are Teachers so Vulnerable to OFSTED?

When it was announced recently that a member of our SLT was being seconded to OFSTED and HMI  for 12 months there were boos in the staffroom. It wasn’t connected in any way with that person, but rather at his destination. Much has been said about the negative aspects of inspection. Pages have been written by teachers and teachers representatives on every uttering of Sir Michael Wilshaw since he took his job as head of that organisation. I do not want to add to those topics here.

What I want to consider is why teachers are so affected by all observations of our classes. In any other job it is pretty standard practice for someone to inspect and assess your job every day and to observe you doing it. Yet recently teaching unions were unhappy when the 3 hour a year observation limit was dropped.

Teaching, we are often told, is a vocation not a job. Everyone knows how vital education is for individual children up to the whole nation. So teachers are acutely aware of the importance of what they are doing. There is a STATUS that comes from working in schools. Firstly it is seen as a key to the future and secondly because it is seen as a difficult job. Teachers are always being told by our friends “I don’t know how you could spend all day with that age group. I couldn’t do it.”

And that social standing makes us feel good. When we are marking books at 10:30 at night or never getting a response from the parents of a badly behaving pupil, when we have to buy the coloured paper we need as a resource for Monday’s lesson because there is no money for it in our budget or when we have to set cover again for a colleague who is off long term with the stress of the job, we can fall back on the fact that deep down we are appreciated and valued for what we are doing.

So when the inspector runs down what you do, tells you your school is no longer satisfactory, criticises your lesson because it doesn’t fit the way their piece of paper says all lessons have to be taught, or says that you should be adding more for EAL pupils in your department, then the pride part of our job, that bit that keeps us going gets publicly slapped and we don’t have any other comforts to fall back upon.

If most teachers did it for the money then an inspection that doesn’t affect your pay would be no big deal. But an inspection that tells everyone that you and your school is poor becomes a public humiliation for  staff. Thats why we are vulnerable to OFSTED’s negative comments – they are a personal insult made in front of the whole community. OFSTED are like an insensitive teacher who cruelly and unfairly criticises a pupil in front of the rest of the class.

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