No-Notice Inspections? by @Mroberts90Matt

The Nightmare
It’s Thursday morning on a chilly November morning and you’ve just got into your classroom after a terrible commute. Traffic was horrendous, a poor night’s sleep and the rain is pouring. At least it’s a regular day at school. But then, a senior staff member rushes into your classroom eyes wide, sweat starting to drip (much like the condensation on your window). They mutter the dreaded three worded phrase “… Ofsted are here…” You look back, stunned. Obviously, like the excellent practitioner you are, you have your day planned with meaningful learning activities, your resources are prepared and your children’s workbooks are marked up to date (oh…but what about that Science task…?). And yet…is that particular Maths lesson one you would want Ofsted to see? Will it show your ability as a teacher, or was it some much needed revision that was never going to be a showcase lesson?

Discussion
Now, this nightmare could very well become a reality. No-notice inspections is an idea that has been bandied about for some time by Ofsted as far as I can tell. However, in the recent Teacher Voice Weekly Poll when the question was asked whether teachers thought it would be good for Ofsted to introduce no-notice inspections, the majority stated it should be pursued.

I’ll admit, this result surprised me. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to consider the pros and cons of no-notice inspections and consider if it is something which should be considered. As always, all views are my own and I’m sure there may be other advantages and disadvantages I’ve missed but feel free to add comments to the post.

Advantages
1. No specified style of teaching
This first point isn’t so much an advantage as it is an event that has made no-notice inspections more of a possibility. The general gist is that as Ofsted are no longer meant to be looking for a particular style of teaching, this means that there is no ‘criteria’ of an outstanding lesson (and for that matter, grading lessons had been thrown out). For a more detailed discussion see my blog post here.

So, as there are no hoops to jump through, pedagogically speaking, your standard of teaching will be enough as long as it is helping children make the required progress. The advantage? No more stressful late nights trying to construct a lesson that is based in a style of teaching that may not fit your methodology for the next day after the dreaded phone call.

2. Takes away the fear factor (partially)
The difference between a school who knows Ofsted are not coming for a long time and a school who know the call is imminent is startling. I’ve been in both a couple of times, it is so clear! The fact that a school is aware of an impending inspection creates this atmosphere amongst the staff that Doomsday is approaching and they’d better be ready.

If no-notice inspections were implemented, this would dissipate. Schools would no longer work toward the estimated next inspection but would aim to maintain excellent learning as if Ofsted could walk in any day. Now, I’m not naïve enough to suggest that there would be no fear factor. There would still be teachers who are afraid that Ofsted could arrive any day. However, I firmly feel that, over time, this fear would shrink with the day-to day tasks of teaching and a habit would form where schools are always at their best, always prepared for Ofsted to walk through their doors. Much better than a panic-induced sprint to 11pm the night before!

Disadvantages
1. Logistics
Ofsted want to see every teacher teach. They need this to get an overall picture of the whole school’s learning activities and ethos. If Ofsted do decide eventually to hold no notice inspections – what if the school are engaged in some sort of whole school programme – maybe school photos are that day? Maybe two classes have planned to be out on a trip? You get the general idea, logistically it could be awkward if Ofsted were to begin turning up on the door unannounced.

2. More control of scenarios
If a school know that Ofsted is coming in, they can invariably sort out any unfinished knots that need sorting. Many people feel more comfortable when they are in control and this is important when a teacher is about to be observed – to feel in control. Without that sense of control, it may skew what goes on in the classroom, making the judgments and feedback given unreliable.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but some thoughts I’d been having. Is no-notice inspections something that Ofsted should consider?

Personally, I’m starting to feel more and more that due to the recent changes in the Ofsted Handbook, it creates an appropriate climate for that to be a methodology that Ofsted should consider. If Ofsted visits were conducted in a manner which was not imposing and based on judgments, but rather feedback, then it may (over time) become an easier pill for teachers to swallow. Only time will tell…

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