Everything you wanted to know about a rogue inspector…but were too afraid to ask.

There came a time when darkness reigned. Few who came into its contact remained unscathed, and some even perished. Resistance seemed futile and the battle, as was presumed by so many, had been won. Thus, so it became so, that ‘twas the darkness that reigned supreme. Those that lived in its fear gave this darkness a name: The Rogue.

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Chapter 12: The Rogue Dynasty and its eventual downfall

Pity the poor Head of an improving school, who, after receiving their 12:14pm phone call on a Wednesday afternoon gathers the staff to inform them that over the next two days they are being inspected by Ofsted, but don’t worry, they say, the lead inspector sounded quite nice on the phone.

Pity the poor Head, who, after welcoming the inspection team into the building, engages with small talk about the early morning traffic, all the time wondering if now would be a good time to bring up ‘British Values’ just to get that bit over with, as they all wait for the lead inspector to arrive.

Pity the poor Head who is quickly realising that the person now facing them, tippexing out all the green on the freshly printed RAISEonline data pack, considers rational thought and reason to be things they have neither the time nor inclination to indulge in.

Pity the poor Head as they prop up the conference bar and bore anyone who is still listening about the injustice of it all, and that if they’d only been visited by the inspector who’d judged the school down the road, they wouldn’t now be in this mess.

Tribal Tales (vol 2) – “In which we invite the reader to feast upon a feeble head.”
Trad tale: anon

We’ve all heard the stories. We’ve all read the reports. We’ve all shaken our heads with faint disbelief. But we’ve all secretly thought the same thing: it wouldn’t happen to a school like mine.  As time passes between inspections we convince ourselves that these are just spook stories, designed to pass the hours of a sleepless night. Every now and then we overhear a conversation about an inspector gone rogue in another school in a different authority. Shouldn’t happen, we say (…no smoke without fire though, we think) but, no, that sort of inspection couldn’t happen to a school like mine.

Could it?

Tread carefully dear reader, for this is not for the faint of SEF or weak of RAISEonline. This is a most cautionary tale for those of you naïve enough to think you’ve got what it takes to spot a Rogue and send it back under its bridge to lick its wounds as your school stands tall and undefeated. For it’s your school, my friends, that the Rogue likes to feast on more than any other.

Are you ready?

Then I’ll begin…Everything you wanted to know about a Rogue Inspector but were too afraid to ask.

Shark infested waters

Be of no doubt that the rogue inspector has a very clear mind of what they intend to find in your school before the inspection even begins – they are cold blooded, single minded creatures of habit. They understand their prey, however, and do their best to lull Heads into a false sense of security in order to get closer: the initial phone-call will be pleasant and, in the morning, the offers of coffee will be gratefully received with warm smiles all round. Only during the first initial conversation with the Head do they begin to act naturally. Like a shark smelling fresh chum in the water, the rogue inspector will frenzy around a little blue titbit they’ve found in your RaiseOnline. They’ll be itching to close in for the kill but they won’t swallow you whole of course, oh no, that would be too easy; after all, they have two whole days to play. Instead they will take the tiniest bite to see how you taste, then they’ll throw out a lifeline – something along the lines of ‘well I’m sure that’s not the whole story and we have plenty of time to find out more’ in an attempt to make it seem like you have a fighting chance. And as they turn away and start to sniff out some poor unsuspecting teacher who will bravely try and swim in the same water as this calculated killer, you can’t help thinking that you’re about to be turned into shark-bait.

‘It’s not all about the data…’

There are two general rules of thumb when dealing with a rogue inspector and their use of data within an inspection. Firstly, despite them saying otherwise, it really will all be about the data. Secondly, the more a rogue inspector uses data, the less competent they seem to be at interpreting it. A rogue inspector wants a clean narrative. They will therefore select data that provides this. Conflicting data will be ignored, side-lined and given no credence during a discussion. The broader your own data analysis, the narrower their data field becomes. They will justify this by claiming that you are too stupid to see the obvious and that you are using a range of data to mask your failings. No matter what, they will stick to their preconceived and biased narrative. An experienced rogue inspector also knows better than to actually understand the data they are looking at or to use data consistently. Their claims that, it is not all about the data is untrue; what they mean is it is not about all data. The rogue will follow the ‘Blue’; that is all they need, that is all they will use and your resistance is futile.

You’re damned if you do…

Even the most rogueiest of rogue inspectors understands that there has to be a degree of discussion during an inspection and there are various games and tricks that the rogue plays in order to get through these more tedious elements of an inspection. A particular game that the rogue enjoys playing is the ‘critical fool’, first established when SEFs were no longer statutory. The aim of the game is to get the Head to discuss an area of weakness that they have identified and are tackling. The rogue inspector listens to the weakness and writes it down in great detail on an EF. No attention must be paid to what the school is doing to address this weakness as this isn’t as much fun and doesn’t add any value to the final score. Then, during the rest of the inspection the rogue inspector will refer to said weakness as much as possible. As this continues the rogue inspector will begin to believe that they themselves have spotted the weakness. In subsequent discussions, therefore, the rogue inspector will comment on the weakness and suggest that the leadership team must be ineffective for not seeing it or tackling it; when the Head inevitably says that they do know about the weakness, the rogue inspector will feign a stunned expression and say something along the lines of ‘So you admit it?’ When the other senior leaders pipe up to say that they know about it too and that they’d be happy to show the inspector what they’re doing about it, the rogue will shake their head in despair and tut ‘Even your leaders know about this weakness.’ When you all scream ‘WE KNOW AND HERE IS WHAT WE’RE DOING ABOUT IT!’ the rogue will cease to engage and simply write on their EF ‘Leaders admit to weakness and apparently do nothing about it.’ As you stand there in disbelief the other inspectors will add 5 points to the rogue inspector’s score and the game begins again.

Progress over any old time will do

Progress over time. Like what exactly constitutes requires improvement, ‘progress over time’ is a broad church and one that provides the rogue inspector with enormous scope for fun and games. It can become pretty confusing trying to keep up with the rogue inspector’s particular choice of time frames as they will vary. Just try to remember: whatever period of time will best fit the judgement the rogue inspector most wants to make, that will be the one that they use. If achievement has improved over two years, try looking at it over three, or four, or ten: as long as it allows you to find a declining pattern, you’re onto a winner. Progress in books looks pretty good since September but what about since yesterday. Yesterday? You heard the man, look at yesterday’s work compared to today’s, no progress! How dreadful. It gets even more hilarious during lessons. You can be watching the most amazing lesson but if there is any lag you can bet your bottom dollar that this will be the precise period of time selected for progress to be judged. But wait, the new handbook says – let me stop you there…this is a rogue inspector we’re talking about.

Positively moronic

Now that the rogue inspector has gotten down to brass tacks and lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that if this school was a horse it should have been turned into glue a long time ago (but not officially of course, otherwise you’d be able to get support from outside to help fight your case and the rogue doesn’t want that, they want you all to themselves), you begin to think about how to get the reigns of the inspection back in your hands. Fight back, you tell yourself; be positive! You dutifully bring out all your evidence to show your improvements, your successes, your reasons why the school is doing well. The rogue inspector puts on their rubber gloves and tentatively handles a few bits and pieces whilst trying not to inhale. Finally they push it all to one side and brand you an over-optimistic idiot. Rather than being used as evidence to show capacity to improve, the rogue inspector deems it evidence that the school’s employment of you is akin to asking a feeble brained village idiot to become secretary of state for education, or, asking Michael Gove to become secretary of state for education. Your attempts at highlighting successes to a person who does not wish to see success has only worsened the overall outcome for you and your school. Whoops.

Bingo Time: eyes down (actually, eyes closed will do)

The Ofsted inspection handbook makes clear that the criteria for each judgement should not be used as a tick-list. The rogue inspector does not know this of course, because they tend to only have photocopied the four ‘inadequate’ pages of the handbook, for that is all they need. They will spend the inspection demoting as many good judgements as they can that were made by the additional inspectors.  This illogical way of carrying on was handed to the rogue inspector on a plate when it was decided that there would be no ‘requires improvement’ criteria contained within the handbook. The majority of inspectors are able to use discretion, additional evidence, proportionality and professionalism to conclude that if something seen is not ‘good’ then there may be other evidence to draw conclusions from, so, you know, they are able to make well informed and sensible judgements that reflect the reality of the school.  The rogue inspector has no time for such subtleties, plus their train is booked for 4pm and adhering to the handbook would take ages. Far simpler to keep your eyes down and try to apply as many inadequate statements as possible with the hope that if they spread it about as liberally as they can, they can least get an RI out of it when comparing their scorecards with their fellow inspectors.

Code breakers

It is not, when you actually think about it, a huge surprise to find that the rogue inspector does not adhere to a basic moral or professional code when conducting an inspection. This could include not following handbook procedures properly, being rude and obnoxious to as many people as possible, failing to engage professionally with senior leaders or, in the worst cases, the rogue inspector will happily welch on agreements made at the start of the inspection. It is not uncommon for a rogue inspector to be found observing members of staff that, for a variety of reasons, you negotiated at the start to not be observed. The rogue will happily comply, at the start, but these members of staff are seen as golden opportunities for a rogue inspector and are not to be missed; particularly if the consequences of such violations will last long after the rogue inspector has written their draft report.

Fact or Fiction?

When the draft report is written it is worth remembering that the rogue inspector is actually nothing more than a frustrated writer on a par with a two-bit peddler of a penny-dreadful. Don’t be fooled into assuming that you have been sent the wrong school’s report, check the inspection number at the top and you will see that, sadly, this is a report of your school. Take the time to get past the clunky phrasing and the badly formed sentences and you will find that it is the lack of technical accuracy that is worst of the literary crimes on display here. Statistical analysis isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but your newest parent governor could take one look at the misinterpretations of national data and declare the report a joke. Sadly, this report is for your eyes only – better cancel that mini-break, you’ve got a factual accuracy check to get on with all by yourself.

That’s not all folks

The saddest element of a rogue inspector’s existence is that their influence does not end when they leave your school; unfortunately, their legacy will live on. There are many victims of rogue inspectors: Heads, teachers, governors, children, schools, communities and even Ofsted itself. Ofsted is a sound idea with a clear and solid purpose: raise standards, improve lives. The rogue inspector serves no purpose except to satisfy whatever warped ideology they are individually peddling. They hinder the progress of the very schools they inspect and the organisation they represent. How sad that they exist. Let us hope that their time will soon come to an end and posts like this are considered to be a historical document or a grotesque work of fiction rather than a depressing and dangerous truth.

4 thoughts on “Everything you wanted to know about a rogue inspector…but were too afraid to ask.

  1. Lesley May 13, 2015 / 9:28 pm

    Working in education sometimes is akin to being in a madhouse !!! However, at least in a madhouse all the people are recognised as being insane. I fear that it will become worse before it gets better. So sad.

  2. Deb R May 13, 2015 / 11:42 pm

    What a courageous post. I have thought before that your posts are a mirror for my own professional experience and I think this one will resonate with so many colleagues. I have to applaud your style of writing, you hit the nail on the head frequently with your sharp observations. This post has to be one of my favourites but it was quite a roller coaster reading it just now. I started off mildly amused, than had a fit of the giggles, then laughed uproariously, then, as my old nan used to say, the ‘laughing came to crying’ as I realised how actually true to my own experience of our school’s past three inspections 2010, 2012 & 2014 this post is. Thank you for helping so many of us to keep things in perspective by being honest about this bonkers job.

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