Why school inspectors are bad for education

Most TV interviews these days tend to be of the more-bad-news-about-Brexit type, so it was with some relief I saw the Chief Inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate, Noelle Buick, appear on screen the other day. Ms Buick was complaining that, owing to teacher ‘industrial action’, the inspectors were being totally blocked from inspecting one third of our schools and encountering minimal co-operation from another one-third of our schools.

I find it difficult to tell you why that cheered up me up as much as it did . But I’ll try.

As any honest teacher will tell you, the impending arrival of a group of inspectors for a formal school inspection is as welcome as the arrival of the bubonic plague. It sparks a round of  pretence, straight-forward lying and even mental breakdown in the school. Notice boards that were decorated with yellowing and curling notices, if any, suddenly are replaced by sparkling, lively notices calling attention to all sorts of good school activities. Teacher hastily attack their lesson-preparation work-book and draw up elegant lesson plans and schemes of work, many of them retrospective. School departments get together and agree on a version of how they work together that presents a smooth engine of elegantly co-ordinated parts, rather than a teacher group which is more often marked by solo runs, ancient grudges and the occasional back-stab. The moment the inspectors depart, a sigh of relief is heard around the staffroom and the notice board and school departments go back to living school life as it has always been.

In short, school visitations by inspectors bring out the very worst in everyone involved. The inspectors revel  in their power to strike terror into teachers’ hearts. The school tries to anticipate what the bloody inspectors will be looking for and then fabricate it. There are fears, tears and harsh words as teachers move from concentration on what they do best, teaching, and give all their energies to satisfying a group of visitors they fear and resent.

Teachers know when they’re doing a good job or not. Pupils know when teachers are doing a good job or not. Parents know when teachers are doing a good job or not. The inspectorate is a body of people who make the work of genuine education truly difficult. And do they care? As an inspector once said in my presence: “We aren’t as popular as nurses, but then again we earn an awful lot more.”

I rest my case.


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