Ofsted Watch: A House on the Edge

ofsted watch: a scared man looks over a table

Things are more than a little bit tense in our house at the moment. The reason? We’re on Ofsted watch – waiting for the call that could change everything.

Living with Ofsted

There’s a lot of tension in our house at the moment. You walk through the front door and it hits you instantly: the combination of fear, stress and adrenaline. It’s almost palpable. To the uninitiated, it might seem like our family is having a row, or we’ve just received some distressing news. But to teachers, the atmosphere is instantly recognisable: this is a household on Ofsted watch.

My husband’s a primary teacher at a school whose next Ofsted inspection will be decisive. It will, quite literally, make or break the management team and could undermine a number of the excellent teachers who work there. The tension has been mounting for the past year until, when the call was finally due in September, it had reached its apex. Since then, I’ll be honest, things at home have been tense. Very tense.

Teacher Stress

My husband has always been a conscientious teacher; he’s always marked and planned diligently, and he’s always been willing to go the extra mile for the school: stepping in at the last minute to fill a teacher place on an extra-curricular trip, or giving up his PPA to solve a timetabling gap. But now, his diligence has gone into overdrive. Piles of books come home every night to be combed over repeatedly, planning is meticulous and detailed to the nth degree, admin is scrupulously completed. His teaching workload has always been bad, but right now it is extreme.

All jobs have their flashpoints, and I could cope with Ofsted watch if it was just that: an excess of work. But it’s not. The thing that worries me is the stress I see in his face, the knowledge that he is under tremendous pressure, as is every other teacher in his school. I worry that he is not sleeping, that he is finding it hard to eat regularly, that he is fractious and on edge. These are signs of excessive pressure, and in any other job they would seem too much. But I used to be a teacher, and I know that this is “normal”. Worse, it is expected. Ofsted inspections are meant to put the fear of god into teachers. And they do.

A call for change

So, what’s the answer? For me, it was to get out of teaching altogether. But for my husband, he’s determined to stick it out: he adores his job; teaching is a calling for him, and he refuses to allow this biennial torture hound him out of the job he loves. For his sake, therefore, I wish that there was no Ofsted watch at all. I wish that there was no waiting for the call, because there was no call to wait for. In short: I wish that Ofsted arrived unannounced.

If this were the case, schools would have to let go of the reins a bit; they’d have to relax their rules around inspections. The level of pressure that my husband is under is not sustainable long-term, so a more reasonable approach would have to be adopted. Heads would have to put their heads above the parapet and say that Ofsted needs to take them as they find them: as a working, everyday school in which mistakes are sometimes made, in which books are sometimes unmarked, in which (shock, horror!), lessons sometimes go off-piste. If there were no scheduled slot for inspections, no imminent call, then the pressure would be taken off teachers and they could do what they are actually supposed to do: teach. It’s a scary thought, and when I was a teacher, even the suggestion that an Ofsted inspector could walk into my classroom on any day at any time would have filled me with horror. But we have to do something. For the sake of the mental health of our teachers, change needs to happen. And maybe this is the way to do it.

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