Wednesday 18 May 2011


Thank you for your comments, and I apologise for going wobbly on you.  I'll stop going on about it after this, but there's more to say than will fit in a comment.

I remember the first inspection I was involved in, years ago.  The chief inspector said, robustly, "satisfactory means that it gives satisfaction, and that is a perfectly good result."  In fact, it was never true (although she spoke in good faith) and satisfactory has always meant 'barely adequate' in Ofsted terms.  Every inspection of both schools I've been involved with has been 'good' and the village school only wasn't judged 'outstanding' because of the cramped conditions in a small and unsuitable building.

Last time, there was a brief one-day inspection and the governors weren't seen, apart from the then chairman.   The time before, all governors were interviewed in pairs.  On that occasion, the whimsical decision was taken to ask us about matters that weren't our area of expertise.  I was asked about finance and, fortunately, since we were faced with a spending cut at the time and the Head had explained exactly what measures were being taken to keep in the black, I knew plenty about it.  I did already know a fair bit about school finance because of my chairmanship of the other school.

I know I don't need to quote a lot of facts and I have no thought of doing so.  They will have been through our documents and it depends what they decide to focus on - obviously, it's likely to be our weaker areas and that's fair enough, and since I know what they are and what we're doing about them, and that we've already gained ground and that is demonstrable, it's all right.  But there are three reasons for my anxiety.

One is that, last time, it wasn't a good experience and everyone concerned found the attitude of the inspectors very unsettling.  The next is that, last time, I wasn't chairman and now I am.  The third is that, for the first time, I genuinely think that we deserve an evaluation of 'outstanding' and I would be devastated if we didn't get it because I hadn't come up to scratch or if I felt that they were nitpicking - if they can clearly explain why we've fallen short, fair enough.  However, I honestly believe that the school is excellent and I think that I'm doing pretty well - but inspectors do have their preconceived ideas and you can't always overturn them.  For example, once at the village school, an inspector asked about cultural diversity in a school where there was a predominately white English culture.  I explained about what we were doing and, as a practical example, mentioned that the two Chinese and two half-Chinese children in the school had been involved in our recent celebration of the Chinese New Year, bringing in clothes, food and speaking about customs and so on.  The eldest child, a boy of seven or eight had spoken with pride, loved being the centre of attention and I thought it had been successful.  "Oh," the inspector said, "but don't you think that smacks of tokenism?"   I really think that nothing would have been the right answer there, she had already made her decision.  If I hadn't mentioned it, she might well have been critical that we were not being inclusive of the culture of our ethnic minorities.

As a side reason, we're already up to our necks in preparing for the closure of the middle schools, taking on two extra year groups and moving our sixth form to different premises, arguing for funding to do that from the local authority because our capital formula funds have been slashed, working on becoming an academy by the end of this term, not knowing whether our application has been successful and in the middle of the exam period.


Gledwood said...

I wanted to be a school governor when I was at school. Really had some ideas for shaking up the system I did!!

Z said...

You need a purpose, Gledwood. Get your shit together and I'd take you on as a governor. You'd have to move to north Suffolk, mind you.

Blue Witch said...

IMO, a good manager /governor does not need to know all the facts - just the principles, and to which subordinate detailed queries should be directed.

Mind you, it's 15 years since I did my OFSTED training, and what we looked at then bears no resemblance to what is evaluated today.

I do think that ISI inspections nowadays are much more rigorous than OFSTED mind you (both from what I've observed happen within schools during inspections, and from what OFSTED trained bods who've gone on to inspect for ISI say).

Z said...

The last Ofsted inspection was really pretty provocative, BW. The chairman was shocked when the lead inspector poked at a sheaf of papers and said "this is a failing school, isn't it? Admit it." By the end of the day, he had given it a 'good'. You can't really have a professional relationship with someone like that. If he'd really thought it was failing, he might have gone up to 'satisfactory' but no further. He was just trying to wrong-foot, but in an offensive manner.

I don't feel that I need to remember all the facts. But I have to know about everything so that I can bring it to bear in what I say. Because I expect to be challenged, and that's entirely appropriate. If I start reeling off statistics, it will just look as if I've spent the week swotting, but if I can draw specific examples from any aspect they throw at me, it will show I know about the school from all angles.