True Ofsted conversations #2

Like peeling away the layers of an onion, the results of talking to Ofsted, often make you cry.
Warning: like peeling away the layers of an onion, the results of talking to Ofsted can make you cry.

There’s nothing I like more than a robust conversation with someone who knows their onions. The opportunity to engage and participate with an Ofsted inspector therefore, should be the allium equivalent of downing a pint of French Onion Soup: a prospect that, in theory, I heartily relish the thought of. How disappointing it is then, that in my career, after certain conversations with lead inspectors (or the ‘head chefs’, if I’m going to run with this onion/cooking metaphor), I’m usually left with a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth. Not because I’m afraid of challenge but because, well…they’ve tended to be a few onions short of a dopiaza.

Take this recent exchange between myself, a lead inspector and their team, on the subject of pupil behaviour.

Lead Inspector

They’re very confident your children aren’t they?

Head

Well, it’s nice for children to have a bit of confidence, don’t you think?

Lead Inspector

Your children seem very confident though don’t they?

Head

I’m not sure I follow. Has something happened?

Lead Inspector

No, but in the playground, I could tell that they’re very confident children. Sometimes confidence can become arrogance.

Head

Sometimes, yes.

Lead Inspector

We all know communities like yours.

Head

Come again?

Lead Inspector

This is a very middle class community, sometimes these families can be rather challenging of authority.

Head

Well, any school community can be challenging. This school had suffered from instability with regards to the senior leadership in the years before my appointment and I think that this may have made some families not trust the school. But I think we’ve come a long way since then. The children’s behaviour has certainly improved over time.

Additional Inspector 1

In what way?

Head

Well, I think for many pupils, especially the older ones, they hadn’t experienced a consistent approach for most of their time here. It wasn’t surprising that they didn’t buy into our new whole school approach to learning and behaviour from the very start, because, for all they knew, it could all change again at the drop of a hat. But, over time, systems have been embedded and they’ve gradually become more effective as the children saw that they were staying and that more importantly they were working.

Lead Inspector

But you’re saying the older ones challenge authority?

Head

No I think you’re saying that.

Lead Inspector

They seem very confident. Sometimes this can come across as arrogance, or even rudeness.

Head

Yes, so you keep saying. Is that your way of telling me that some children have been rude to you?

Lead Inspector (to the other inspectors)

Have any of the children been rude?

Additional Inspector 2

Well, I was talking to some children on the playground and I got the impression that they could become rude.

Lead Inspector

I see.

(Lead inspector starts scribbling something down on her EF)

Head

Sorry I don’t see. Are you saying that some children were actually rude to you?

Additional Inspector 2

No, but they definitely had the manner of children that could become rude.

Head

But they weren’t?

Additional Inspector 2

No. But I could see how they might challenge authority figures.

Head

But they didn’t challenge you and they weren’t rude?

Additional Inspector 2

No

Lead Inspector

I see, but it was clear that their behaviour could tip into rudeness – I must write this down.

Head

Hang on, hang on. You see this mug here?

Lead Inspector

Yes.

Head

Well, I could, I ‘could’, pick it up and throw it at you. I might even look like I’m going to pick it up and throw it at you. But until I do pick it up and throw it at you, you can’t actually say that I picked it up or that I threw it at you.

Lead Inspector

Your point?

Head

My point is, that until one of my pupils is actually rude to you, I don’t think it’s fair for you to judge them based on what you think they might, could, possibly, maybe, slight chance that they will, would, may do.

Lead Inspector

Let’s move on to learning behaviours.

Additional Inspector 1

Ah, now I have to say that all the pupils I saw were really engaged with what they were doing.

Additional Inspector 2

Yes, they were really keen to talk to me about what it was their teacher was teaching them and what they had learnt.

Head

Oh, that’s really good to hear. We’ve really worked on –

Lead Inspector

Were they challenged?

Head

Pardon?

Lead Inspector

It sounds like they were completing tasks that were too easy.

Head

Where did you get that from?

Additional Inspector 2

Hmm, I suppose they were explaining tasks.

Lead Inspector

Exactly. Not describing the learning. Were they easily distracted?

Additional Inspector 2

Well they were very keen to talk to me.

Lead Inspector

(Writing) So…easily…distracted…from…simplistic…tasks.

Head

Hang on a second here folks, children showing off their work to an inspector is not the same as children being easily distracted.

Lead Inspector

But they were explaining tasks. Because they weren’t being taught anything.

Head

I’m pretty sure the tasks were allowing them to either acquire a better understanding of something relatively new or consolidating their learning. You don’t learn if you don’t get a chance to practise.

Lead Inspector

But they’re not being moved on swiftly enough. That’s why they’re getting bored.

Head

Who said they were getting bored?

(pause)

Additional Inspector 2

I did see a child look out of a window.

Lead Inspector

Oh dear.

Head

What?

Lead Inspector

They’re not being challenged, that’s why they’re switching off

Head

Switching off? Maybe they were thinking?

Additional Inspector 2

And one child, just got up, in the middle of the lesson, and tapped the electronic whiteboard that had just gone to sleep.

Head

So, he used his initiative to wake up the whiteboard so he could carry on with his work.

Lead Inspector

There’s that over confidence again though, don’t you see?

Head

No. I don’t see.

Additional Inspector 2

It was like he didn’t have to get permission from the adult. He felt he could just get up and make a decision that impacted on everybody else.

Head

Yeah, it did, it made sure they could get on with their work. Good on him, I say.

Lead Inspector

And this is the problem. You just don’t seem able to see the poor behaviour in your school.

Head

I can’t actually believe you’re genuinely claiming that a child looking out of a window, a child tapping a white board and children excitedly talking about their work is proof that behaviour is poor.

Lead Inspector

Oh I’m not just saying that it’s poor. I’m not even saying that it requires improvement. I’m saying that, combined with the rudeness, it’s almost inadequate.

Additional Inspector 1

Just to play devil’s advocate here for a second. The children we’ve spoken to say they enjoy school, they enjoy their lessons and they’re keen to please their teachers. The children I’ve observed have really enjoyed getting stuck into their lessons and have been really engaged. The children all talk positively about the behaviour policy and they seem to think that behaviour has improved over the last couple of years. They say that there aren’t any bullies although there are some naughty children but that the school is helping them with their behaviour. All the children have talked consistently about the standards of behaviour expected of them. ParentView is broadly positive about behaviour. I guess what I’m wondering, the question I want to ask is: are we really saying that the examples of passive learning we’ve highlighted is enough evidence to say that behaviour across the entire school is inadequate?

Head

Thank you. At last. Some common sense. I like you.

Additional Inspector 1

Thank you. I just think it’s worth us having that discussion.

Lead Inspector

Well.

(pause)

Lead Inspector

Shall we agree RI?

Additional Inspector 1

I can live with that.

Head

What?

Additional Inspector 2

Agreed.

Head

I think you all better leave now.

Lead Inspector

Why?

Head

I’ve got a horrible feeling I’m about to pick up that mug.

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “True Ofsted conversations #2

  1. Primary1teacher June 8, 2015 / 9:30 pm

    Thanks for positing this.

    Just wanted to ask….how much of this is true? (I’m hoping the eventual mug being thrown)

    • theprimaryhead June 8, 2015 / 9:32 pm

      No! That’s the only bit that isn’t strictly true. I didn’t threaten them with a mug. Everything else, sadly, is pretty much on the nose.

      • @gazneedle June 9, 2015 / 5:23 am

        This is like a Monty Python sketch. As I read it I saw John Cleese as the lead inspector, Eric Isle as the additional inspector and Graham Chapman as the head. All you needed was Terry Jones dressed in drag delivering tea half way through. Unbelievable!

      • theprimaryhead June 9, 2015 / 6:38 am

        Now that’s an illustration I’d pay good money to have! (Shall I send your cheque in the post?)

  2. Alex June 11, 2015 / 8:49 pm

    I had the same thought as @gazneedle (though I had not figured out yet who would be who). Brilliantly funny – if it wasn’t so sad

  3. Mark Bennet June 11, 2015 / 9:51 pm

    Thank goodness you survived through education still able to challenge authority, I say. And if you won’t listen to a word I’m saying, well maybe I might be just a little bit rude to get your attention. Now is it the scald or the bruise that needs treatment first?

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