On The Inspection Borg: resistance isn’t futile


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“We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times… don’t provoke the Borg.”

These quotes will be familiar to Star Trek fans (or those married to one). The Borg, for the uninitiated, were introduced as a coercive and symbiotic life form that then took over key Federation personnel. The Borg assimilate human beings and link them to a collective consciousness – the hive-mind. Borgs are collectively aware but not aware of themselves as individuals.

It might be a stretch but imagine that Ofsted are the Borg. Coercive? Yes. Symbiotic? Certainly. I’m pretty sure the school system would survive (and even thrive) without Ofsted but if we were to disconnect from the Ofsted Borg they’d have nothing to inspect and consequently shut down. Ofsted have been assimilating schools and we’ve been complicit in homogenising by conforming to what we think Ofsted want to see when they inspect schools. Paradoxically, I believe this has had a detrimental effect on what happens in school when the watchdog was set up to improve them.

‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’ – Stephen Covey

In his speech on Monday, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that one of the key questions that inspectors might ask of school leaders is about whether they are, ‘focused on what really benefits children and young people rather than wasting their time endlessly preparing for an Ofsted inspection?’ For me it was the stand out quote of the speech.

I’d like to work in a school that genuinely focused on doing things that were purely for the benefit of students – that is ‘the main thing’; anything else is a distraction.

Using meeting time to second guess what Ofsted might be looking for during a lesson observation is a distraction. It is a distraction from exploring the teaching methods that are best for our students. It engenders an idea that there is one set way to teach. We teachers are a heterogeneous bunch, as are our pupils, and the idea that there is a perfect way to teach a single lesson is a nonsense. Worse still, it is a distraction from focusing on long term student progress rather than performance in a 20 minute or hour long observation. Resist.

Encouraging teachers to mark books in a way that we think Ofsted want to see or at intervals we think Ofsted might expect is a distraction. It is a distraction from providing timely and impactful feedback. What if the feedback that has the biggest impact on student outcomes cannot be evidenced? Should we not do it because we can’t prove to Ofsted that we’ve done it? What if the kind of marking we are doing is having little or no effect on pupil progress? Resist.

Constantly second guessing when Ofsted might arrive is a distraction. It is a distraction because it ramps up teacher stress levels. There are schools that sigh a collective sigh of relief when another week passes and ‘the call’ hasn’t come. At the end of the week their shoulders drop back to their normal position and their buttocks unclench. Come Monday, however, shoulders tense; buttocks clench. This can go on for whole terms: clench, sigh, release, repeat. Resist.

In fact, just mentioning the ‘O’ word is a distraction. Let’s replace the word Ofsted with ‘students’. What lessons are best for Ofsted students? What marking is best for Ofsted students? What do Ofsted students think of what we’re doing? That way we’d be keeping the main thing the main thing.

Ban the O word. Resist the Ofsted Borg. Talk a lot about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what impact it has on students. If something works, great, keep it. If it doesn’t, learn from it and adapt.  Talk to your stakeholders: your students and their parents. Listen to what they have to say and explain your decisions. Say to them, ‘We are doing this because we know it is what’s best for you – it might not match up with what the Borg say but we’ve seen the impact it has had here’. They are who matter. If they believe that what you’re doing is for the best, and they can see the impact, does it matter what Ofsted says? Have confidence in what you’re doing because you are doing it for all the right reasons.

If Sir Michael Wilshaw is to be believed, this approach might actually do you some favours when the Borg comes to assimilate you. He said on Monday that Ofsted were going to support the reforming leader. He referred to being a maverick when he led a school but that doing things differently needs to be for one purpose and one purpose alone – to raise standards for the children you serve.

Be brave. Don’t be afraid to do something different. Resist the Ofsted Borg.

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