It is no word of exaggeration to say I go to bed thinking about Ofsted and wake in the morning thinking about Ofsted, as well as at several other points during the night. I inherited a school during lockdown that was overdue an inspection and have been waiting daily, from 10am on Monday to 2pm on Wednesday, for “the call” since the Outstanding exemption was removed.
Staff and pupil attendance has been heavily impacted by Covid – some classes haven’t had any consistency since March 2020. Over half the staff have had Covid at least once, some key players have been absent from school for half terms at a time. Two teachers left this year, mid-year, unable to maintain a work/life balance with long Covid and associated mental health difficulties, despite my greatest efforts to support them. They have left the profession because they refuse to offer less than their best to our children.
We have made huge strides and the children have shone and made incredible progress. But more and more are becoming eligible for Free School Meals since Covid, attendance has plummeted as families have anxiously kept children safe at home or taken long overdue trips overseas to visit family. We have given out over 200 laptops, referred tens of families for household support grants, given food vouchers, handed out food donated by charities but the level of need just keeps going up. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting hard. None of this is the role of an educator, or valued by Ofsted.
Our families, and many staff, were hit by the triple whammy of Covid, coming from financially insecure, BAME and multi-generational households. Those in work had public-facing roles without the protection of working from home. Many families lost someone. Our local infection rate topped 650 per 100,000 for most of all three lockdowns. There has been community trauma.
And we wait for Ofsted, which says it understands. It would take more than a 90-minute phone call for me to explain why it is such a miracle that our children are achieving anything, and yet they are. They are as kind, caring and enthusiastic as ever, but they and families like theirs, suffered disproportionately when schools were closed. They had no outdoor space to play in or an English speaking adult to read with or support them with home learning. Donated devices were shared between siblings. It takes more than two parents to support four or five or six children learning from home.
In the past, we overcame the uphill struggle of socio-economic deprivation through sheer grit, care and a determination to serve our families. The determination is still there but the mountain has got higher. Our 2019 data is outstanding so we will be punished in 2022 as “standards” take an inevitable nosedive.
My greatest fear is letting my staff and families down, which is why I work so hard for them. But will Ofsted recognise what we have been through and achieved or downgrade us because more of our seven-year-olds than ever before couldn’t read 32 words on a phonics screening test this year? If we go into a ‘failing’ category my staff won’t be able to withstand the added pressure and scrutiny. And nor will I.
The staff, governors and families know what we need to do – no inspector can tell us better after a day and a half in school. Just let us get on with it. Our motivation doesn’t come from Ofsted grades and we waste precious time thinking about them. Our children are safe and happy and learning well, leave us to get on with it.
By an anonymous NEU Leadership member.