Ofsted put in Special Measures: the blind leading the sighted

The Watchmen: now hiring. No superpowers required.
The title of this blog is a headline you are unlikely to ever read. But before anything is invented, it is first an idea, so let's at least entertain the idea and aspire to its subsequent genesis. Why so serious? Because, like the rotten apple of Gotham City, the people tasked with directing and protecting education have become as wanton and derelict as any flatfoot with a roll of fifties and a guilty conscience. The Office for Standards in Teaching, has been caught in flagrante delicto. Who are the Watchmen? Ofsted. So who hires the Watchmen?

Reports in the TES indicate that:

Tribal, one of the major firms that carries out inspections on behalf of the watchdog, employs at least five lead inspectors who do not have qualified teacher status (QTS), it has emerged.
Let me put a frame around this: the custodians of our profession, the ones who make the judgements on us as we sweat and fret and plan and mug for their pleasure, desperate to catch their eye with a flash of learning ankle...some of these aren't trained as teachers. So what use are they to anyone?

It is not infrequently observed (at least by me; my sources are impeccable) that many people who occupy public office are unemployable in any other sector, at least until they have frotted their careers in a shameless, foaming dash towards the feathered cushion of an advisory role in munitions or finance. Career politicians give me a spastic duodenum. This state of over-promoted incompetence could only exist in a bureaucracy; now we see its tentacles in the inspection system.

Your inspection team are ready for you.
Of course, it's easy and unfair to demonise; there are many fine inspectors who bring a Rolodex of experience and wisdom to their role. But in the new order of inspection, such wisdom isn't required in order to meet recruitment standards. Here's an odd thing: who judges teachers? Inspectors, at least externally. So who hires and trains them? At some height, it would seem, that the answer is non-inspectors and non teachers. This has to happen eventually, of course. We cannot expect every minister to be all things. But the shame of it is that the profession is represented so badly, so close to the sharp end.

Lay inspectors are history (non-teaching inspection team members who were brought along to give a non-teaching perspective), and I'll raise a glass to that. But now it seems the institution remains in a ghostly, ghastly form. What's worse, if Ofsted don't even have data on how many of its inspectors have reached QTS, then this isn't evidence of a few slip-ups; this is structural; this is intrinsic to the recruitment process.

What other profession would suffer to be assessed by people who couldn't even do the thing upon which they sit in judgement? Can you imagine a surgeon being critiqued by the janitor? The average spectator at the Farnborough air show is about as qualified to assess the pitch, roll and yaw of the Red Arrows, as most people are to assess the minutia of education. Sure, you might be able to say, 'Bum move' if they hammer into a hillside, but even then they couldn't determine if the failure was inevitable or clownish. Good teaching is an art that in the end, it takes a good teacher to assess. Looking at data is only one piece of puzzle, and information without context is just that: information. In order to be understanding, it has to be triangulated with other variables, the most important of which is your appreciation of what's going on in the classroom.

I believe Dame Wilshaw when he says that he wants to root this out; that he wants to raise the game of his teams. But by God, he's got a rotten stable to clear out. If you want teachers to comply with Ofsted inspections, don't worry, we will, because we value our jobs, and schools will ensure that teachers know exactly what witless toy-town teaching liturgy we have to wave in the inspector's faces as they pass.

But if you want us to respect them, listen to them, and value them, then we need more than have-a-go hard-ons with clipboards and check boxes. As others have commented, many teachers have often noted that upon asking what they could do to improve their lessons, many inspectors are reluctant to reply. Well now we know why: it's because some of them don't know.

So here's my Teacher Voice Manifesto: ignore Ofsted inspections. I don't mean fly your career down the toilet, because I care if you can feed yourself. What I mean is that you should free yourself from the shackles of inspection fever, the anxiety that pervades and perverts schools and classrooms, and ruins learning. Stop caring about them. And turn inwards and outwards: inwards as you ask yourself, what should I be doing to be a great teacher?, and outwards as you watch other people to find out some answers. That's the key to being a great teacher. By reducing the standards of learning to formulae and quantitative outcomes, we have strip-mined the soul of one the most important jobs in the world. Well, to Hell with it, and to Hell with them.

Out of picture: 'F-*-C-K-O-F-F'
Until Ofsted can convince the profession that they're more than just a branch of the Ministry for Silly Teaching, that they represent a meaningful cadre of professional experience and ability, then go to Hell. When you come into school, we'll caper and conga through our compartmentalised lessons with clear evidence of progress in fifty minutes, with learning objectives stencilled into everyone's books. And as soon as you leave we'll get back to the real thing, and wash ourselves thoroughly and try to forget how we sold ourselves and the kids.

I am ashamed to be in a profession that is so poorly tended by the panjandrums of bureaucratopia. For the sake of the good inspectors that do exist (and who must be aware of this Hellish pact between the incompetent and the affordable), for teachers, for the profession and for the children who are always at the end of this beggary, Ofsted needs to get itself out of Special Measures. In Alan Moore's Watchmen graphic novel, the enduring motif of the narrative was a Smiley badge with a streak of blood: a tragic joke.

Ofsted, we need you to be better than that.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice to see Tribal's commitment to customer service excellence is as pisspoor as ever. A couple of years ago, they sent a team to inspect my kids' school - a mainstream school with a unit for deaf pupils. The inspector who assessed the deaf unit had next to no experience teaching deaf kids. The inspector couldn't understand what the kids were saying and signing. Yet Tribal insisted that the inspector was capable of assessing the quality of teaching in that deaf unit. It took seven months, an FoI request & questions in Parliament to get them to back down and apologise. The only point at which Ofsted started to give a toss that one of its subcontractors was falling down on the job was when we threatened media publicity. When an inspection agency can't and won't inspect itself, it's got no right to call itself anything other than inadequate.

  3. That is as appalling as it is unsurprising; what a dreadful, pointless way to demonstrate how a system clings to itself rather than accept the obvious- that unqualified staff cannot assess qualified ones on anything more than a rudimentary and inaccurate level.

    Thanks for posting this- I'm directing people to read it as a perfect example of what the problem is.


  4. I was once told by an inspector that my A2 maths lesson could not have been a good lesson because THEY could not understand it. He said his degree was in history and he had always been terrible at maths when I asked.

    That being said internal observations aren't always better.

    I once had a lesson judged inadequate because a fight kicked off during the lesson changeover and the pupils arrived still fighting. The 20 minutes the observer observed my lesson for consisted of a good pupil running countdown on the computer while I stood outside between the fighters awaiting SLT. The observer was a member of SLT who declined to intervene because they were observing me


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