My highly esteemed friend on twitter @emmaannhardy posed a question the other evening:

I keep hearing about Mocksteds in schs & the crazy pressure they put staff under.  I wondered what you thought to Mocksteds @HarfordSean?

Now, I am not Sean Harford and I don’t know what one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and the National Director for Schools has to say on the matter, but Emma’s tweet got me thinking. I have never experienced a Mocksted and I don’t think I would ever organise one for my school. Not least because I agree with Emma’s point about the ‘crazy pressure they put staff under’ but more for the simple reason that I don’t see the point.
Why would a Head decide to carry out a pretend Ofsted in their school? As far as I can work out, there are three reasons:

1. They just can’t wait!
It’s like a child who simply has to open a Christmas present on Christmas Eve because they can’t bear the tension anymore! The inspection could be a result of two things, one being that the school is long overdue an inspection and the Head can’t resist a sneaky peak at what the judgement might be, so they draft in an ‘in it for the cash’ A-team bunch of Ofsted mercenaries who will put you through your paces and give you a judgement that you may or may not get in the real world. The second is that the Head can’t wait to leave the school but Ofsted aren’t going to turn up in the foreseeable future and they need something to put on the CV, so, again, they draft in the Mocksted team and hope that the sentence: ‘A group of paid people visited my school and gave me a judgement that has all the validity of a forged passport’ will get them the job. My advice: patience my friends, patience. They’ll come eventually and, when they do, you won’t be able to wave your Mocksted judgement in the air while spluttering ‘But, but but…’ when it hasn’t gone your way.

2. They just don’t know!
Far more distressing is the possibility that a Head doesn’t know how good the school is and considers the Mocksted to be some kind of fortune telling genie that’ll do the job for them. There is the argument that a new Head, who has arrived at a point where the last Ofsted was a long time ago and the next one may be a long way ahead, may wish to draw a line in the sand by getting the Mockers in. But, in all honesty, surely the cons outweigh the pros? If you’re trying to prove to a school that they’re not as good as they think they are, then for your own sanity, find a more inclusive way of getting that message across to the people you’re meant to be leading. If you’re not a new Head, then shame on you. I mean, come on, muster up a smidgen of courage and put your own judgement on the SEF and see if it sticks. If you honestly don’t know, then, if you’re a locally maintained school ask your school improvement officer; if you’re an academy, ask the executive Head; and if you’re a Free school, well, go and ask a Toby Young, I suppose.

3. They don’t know you!
This is basically the same as number 2 insofar as it suggests that the senior leaders don’t have a strong enough handle on your capabilities as a teacher. Now, this may be because they don’t know how to judge teaching or it may be that they know their judgement of you but they want to check how you ‘perform’. This is rather distasteful and belies the whole point of triangulated evidence over time (which is soooooo 2015) and would suggest the SLT don’t keep very good evidence. It could of course mean that they do know you and are wise to the fact that you literally have a nervous breakdown whenever you’re observed and they’re worried how you’re going to react when an inspector walks in. Again though, I don’t see how a Mocksted is going to help, especially as you actually may need some help, as in support, not just practice in crying into your book corner until the nasty inspector walks away.

Whatever the reason for a Mocksted, I personally think that there are more effective ways for a leader to a) judge and b) improve their own school. My biggest reason for not conducting a Mocksted of my own, however, is consistency. There is just no guarantee that on any given day, any given observers will judge a school the same way. When anyone visits your school, the only variable is the group of visitors filling in the forms and yet the variability in consequences is gargantuan. Judgements can vary between senior leaders conducting observations in the same school; school improvement officers will think differently when visiting the same school; and the same goes for HMI inspectors and Ofsted inspection teams. To conduct a Mocksted and to then expect consistency in judgements forever after is a nonsense. Now I’m not saying that is correct, but it’s the way it is. So, why put your staff through it? Why put yourself through it? Save your money, get into your classrooms, work with your teachers and forget all about Mocksted and Ofsted…well, between 12:15pm on Wednesday and Monday morning anyway.


A piece of advice I heard about ten years too late but am now going to try out…

Don’t make judgements anyway.

There is no law that says your self-evaluation has to contain an actual judgement based on the Ofsted framework. So, don’t bother. Know what is good. Know what needs improving. Get on with it. Let the external observers do the dirty work of judging for you and allow yourself the dignity of carrying on improving outcomes for your children with the professionalism you’ve earned.

4 thoughts on “Mock(ery)steds

  1. bethben92 March 4, 2015 / 6:22 am

    Excellent piece. Last year we had an LA Healthcheck!!! The LA had been inspected and their SI had been found wanting so they decided to Healthcheck all RI schools. Four SI Advisors for a day and a judgement at the end of it. They did give us a list of things to improve too, as a supportive add on. The devastation was awful. They used the new OfSTED schedule which had only come out 3 weeks previous and the head had not yet shared it with the staff, apart from one teacher they judged us at best RI and walked out leaving tears and tantrums in their wake. All 4 barked questions at subject leaders…we didn’t “expect the Spanish Inquisition”.
    Taking your point about different people, different day…OfSTED came 3 months later and gave us Good. If the LA were right, we went from only just RI to top end of good in 90 days…is this a record or just a load of …..
    Thank you for this blog.

  2. julietgreen March 5, 2015 / 9:18 pm

    Oh if only the heads would mingle with proles! How much more would they know about the teaching and learning going on, and how many fewer tears would be shed! It struck me today that many front line teachers are subject to the rule of senior leaders who actually have considerably less classroom experience. Is it really that difficult, as a head, to come and work alongside class teachers, accompany them on visits, do the odd bit of cover?

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