Lesson 76 on Shortening the odds
The reason Owen’s school was so paranoid about their Ofsted visitation was that their SATs scores were so low.
This was not due to any lack of hard work on the part of the staff, but to the fact that many children entered school with few language or social skills. The nursery, which was in a separate block by the entrance gate, had its work cut out getting pupils up to a basic level by the time they reached the infants.
I visited the nursery on a number of occasions and immediately felt it was like being back in some areas of London, where pupils began to learn English only when they entered pre-school. But at Owen’s school it was worse, because in London the children could often already communicate in their home language.
Helping in the nursery was an eye-opener. Many children lacked even simple skills. They couldn’t hold a crayon or sit still to listen or join in action songs. It was an uphill struggle.
So when it came to inspection the school staff knew they were already at a disadvantage. They were suspect even before an inspector set foot over the threshold. The only solution was to shorten the odds.
From my past experience I knew how to go about this.
First you study the guidelines and criteria on which you will be judged. Next you find all the areas you can definitely have squeaky clean and get them sorted. All your documentation needs to be impeccably in place, all your policies signed off and up to date. Everybody needs to read and learn the policies, so that they can answer any questions on them.
Then you clear out the clutter. You destroy the evidence of any practices not matching current requirements. You scrutinise and censor any work hiding in cupboards. You strip the library of non-compliant texts and buy or borrow approved new ones.
Nowadays schools have all this done and dusted. People have learnt how to play the game. But at the start, when Ofsted set out to Name and Shame, it was all new.
My favourite memory of pre-Ofsted planning was a spectacular piece of design work to which a large notice was attached.
It read –
DO NOT TOUCH THE INTERACTIVE DISPLAY!