Sunday, 9 December 2007

Ofsted

A few people have asked me to get round to writing something about the experience of having an Ofsted inspection earlier in the term. There's a kindly-written post about this on the blog, too.

I guess I have been waiting to clarify my thoughts about this.

It hasn't happened.

So, here are my thoughts for the moment.

Firstly I wonder about the role of self-policing in all this. Is the self-generated fear, obsession with detail and making the place perform at its best even worse than what Ofsted actually want? I think perhaps it is. As it happens, Ofsted came round in the middle of lots of building work and other stuff going on and there simply was not the time to rehearse the usual performances. I felt hugely supported by the senior staff and just as much by the whole staff team. I think we were pretty confident and also pretty straight with the inspectors. I had tried a few slightly cheeky lines in our Self Evaluation Form (SEF) too - somewhere it says that we are not "trying to get a good Ofsted", for example.

Perhaps I was lucky - but the inspectors who came were both knowledgeable, and also perceptive. I was asked a lot of difficult questions and I found it a tough day. Equally I learnt a fair bit and I felt they respected the work we are trying to do. In some respects, they commented that we were trying to do too much and ought to rely more on our professional judgment than trying to keep up with everything.

So, with reference to the notion of "performativity" - I didn't find the whole thing excessive, and I did find that the inspectors were willing to accept my/our own judgments of how we were doing as long as they were sensibly put forward and supported by critical thinking or evidence.

So far the discussion is perhaps too focused on things the individual nature of the HMI and second inspector who came, rather than the system.

What I don't like about the system, is its intolerance of dialogue and critical reflection. In the act of Ofsted saying - this is a good school...this is an outstanding school...this is a failing school... - the statement actually becomes the state of reality. A school said to be outstanding, is outstanding.

I've been looking back over the files at work, all the way back to the days of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and their inspection visits. (Which reminds me, that I wish I were as good at filing and organising materials as my predecessors were. A small apology to the future.)

The reports on these visits are letters, to the headteacher and the staff. They are not just well written, without any of the cut-and-paste jargon Ofsted use. They are also written as if there is a dialogue going on. I do think you might consider....I know you are thinking about....This is something we all need to consider more...

It was a pleasure to read those phrases.

I think that the terror of Ofsted is not to be counted simply in the stress leading up to the visit, and whilst they are there. Really the "terror" is that what they say, comes to be. What I would like to see, is an inspection process that is carried out and written up as a professional dialogue involving staff and the inspectors, also including the views of the local mothers and fathers whose children attend the school.

At the moment, one party to the conversation simply terminates all discussion by making an absolute judgment.

By "performativity" I am thinking about Stephen Ball's use of the term.

I am also interested in the earlier use of the term by Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard and the notion of it being an act of "terror" for the game of conversation to be terminated. "By terror I mean the efficiency gained by eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, a player from the langauge game one shares with him. He is silenced or consents, not because he has been refuted, but because his ability to participate has been threatened (there are many ways to prevent someone from playing)" - La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge) (1979),p63-64