There’s a lot of feverish commentary about Ofsted inspections. No question they are a high-stakes matter for everyone involved. I half expected this book to add to the agitated discussions. But in reality it is a great deal more than just a guide to surviving an inspection. Findlater makes it very clear that getting through such an event is not about “pulling out a bag of tricks and putting on a fancy dress” but rather making sure that solid, sensible stuff is in place every day.
The book discusses in tangible terms how a realistic vision, regular routines and attention to detail might translate into best practice. In the case of vision, there is a discussion about our reasons for going into teaching, how students can develop a love of learning, and about how we might retain a lasting passion for our work. It’s helpful to be reminded every now and then about our own personal, bigger picture.
What shines through this book is the author’s respect for her students. She talks about pupil involvement in deciding class routines, her willingness to bring the occasional personal anecdote or perspective to lessons and the importance of being involved in the life of the school. Findlater tries to consider matters from the students’ perspective – asking what really catches their interest, when things have worked really well for them and how we can try to make this evident during an inspection. She uses quotes from real reports to back this up, such as, “Students are full of praise for their school. There is a real sense of community where all feel valued, respected and morale is high.”
Findlater notes that sometimes it takes an outsider to point out just how good things are. This is one of the aspects of an inspection which I enjoy most – feeding back to the school some of the things students say about what it is like to be there on a daily basis. We sometimes miss the spark and the brilliance, and Findlater quite rightly explains how students’ and pupils’ views contribute to the evidence in an inspection. And the point she makes is that their comments and complaints about the school should be regarded as opportunities for exploring in an open forum. “If they are listened to and have a voice,” she writes, “the school will be theirs, not just a place they visit.” Indeed.
The book’s various sections work through the long-term picture, the day of the call, the inspection itself and the lessons which can be drawn out of the process. It has advice and helpful pointers for primary and secondary colleagues alike. While it will be of most use to those early in their career, it’s a great reminder for everyone of the nuts and bolts of good work which, knitted together and acted on over time, help students achieve well. The sections of the book which are particularly helpful are the links made between classroom practice and the inspection handbook. For instance, establishing good routines, thinking through opportunities for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and providing appropriate challenges for every student, all link on to inspection expectations. It’s very helpful to have this thread knitted through.
What particularly impressed me about this book was the way in which Findlater emphasises the opportunities to reflect on how far a professional might have travelled. In preparing for a meeting with an inspector (usually as a group, at the end of the first day) she recommends revisiting the performance management expectations, reflecting on CPD and other opportunities to be clear about just how much has been achieved. And, as a corollary to that, what still needs to be done.
There’s only one thread which I think is missing from the book: the extent to which teachers know the headlines of, and are expected to make a contribution to, whole school improvement priorities. And there’s one thing I definitely disagree with: there is absolutely no need to greet the inspector when they come into the lesson!
It’s a hopeful book. It’s very far from being a bunch of cheap tricks to impress some uninvited outsiders. It should help colleagues, whether in primary or secondary, to keep their feet on the ground and their eyes on the big picture. It is a realistic aide-memoire and should take a lot of the heat out of the prospect of an inspection. A very helpful contribution to school improvement. After all, we should be running schools for children, not for Ofsted.
Mary Myatt is a speaker at the Sunday Times Education Festival on 18 & 19 June 2015