The amount of stress and pressure that inspections can cause is evident in all the colleges where I work as a consultant, trainer and coach and this is both saddening and infuriating. Ofsted are an unavoidable fact of life for us but as someone who works cross sector, I can see how additional “Mocksteds” add yet another load of pressure and can distract teams from their core focus on learners as they prepare for this internal inspection. With the advent of managerial learning walks as well, some teachers have been telling me how policed and surveilled they feel at work and this trend is not a professional or healthy one, I think. I feel we review progress in more creative, collaborative and reflective ways, without needing to mimic Ofsted, and should be asking if the “Mocksted” route is the right one to take. I think it isn’t.
Here are a few approaches for preparing for any inspection and managing yourself positively during it:
- Centre and ground yourself. You are the professional who knows your learners best and before the inspection, you need to prepare to share that knowledge with the visitors via paperwork and dialogue.
- Think through your planning for that week and be clear on what you are doing and how it links to prior learning and what the learners need right now. Try not to be swayed into planning some fake “super lesson” that hits all those buzz words in the sector right now. The Frankenstein lesson often throws people off their stroke, I think.
- Focus on your learners and what they need and prepare thoroughly, using approaches you feel confident with. Make your knowledge of the learners explicit in the paperwork. Show how you have planned each lesson for this group, at this point in their development and at this time in the course. Which approaches support and stretch different learners?
- Use your Advanced Practitioner or Coaching network for guidance and support. They can be so helpful bouncing ideas around and just helping you feel more confident.
- Be aware that inspectors always have key trends they are looking for. At present hot topics are stretch and challenge, assessment and feedback, equality and diversity and English and maths. Look for NATURAL opportunities to highlight where these sit within those lessons and be ready to talk about them if interviewed. There is no need to wrench them in if they don’t naturally fit into that lesson, but your Scheme of Work should show where they do fit.
- Try to behave as naturally as you can in the lessons so learners respond authentically. If you are aware that stress can affect you badly in such situations, plan out how to use your favourite strategies to combat this. I find four or five deep breaths (used frequently) plus visualizing how the learners might respond in the lesson helps me stay focused on my role – to facilitate high quality learning. I try to avoid looking at the observer too often as it is too easy to misread concentration for a negative impression of the lesson!!
- Collaborate with colleagues to support each other through it and then celebrate when it’s over!
- Look for some useful areas for development in the feedback provided – often an outside pair of eyes can see things with a different perspective and that can be a nice surprise or a timely prod, depending on context.
- If something in the feedback needs to be challenged, try to do it promptly, clearly and professionally.
- Get back to the normal business of working with your learners, with some new areas to explore……