It was a while since I’d been to a football stadium. 39 years. Let me tell you Selhurst Park was considerably more fragrant than Ayresome Park in 1978 and I’d forgotten how diverting others’ commentaries are. A Dad in front of us didn’t let up with focused, specific, very loud tips for the team, each repeated 3 times, throughout the match. I especially liked ‘get organised early’ and, when he’d yelled himself into a frenzy, ‘settle down’.
I’m much the same now its OFSTED season. Three years is up so the clipboarders could parachute in at any point. This is how it goes: we wait in quivering panic by the phone every Monday-Thursday lesson 3. (Anyone else ringing at that point risks castigation as an unfeeling oaf) When I say quivering, I mean that we remind ourselves to quiver while doing something else. If they ring, they’d tell us they’d be there in the morning at 0800, for a day. In that time they’d check that senior staff know what they’re doing and everyone is competent and able to answer questions intelligently. Entry level, but we do practice. They watch lessons and behaviour and give our safeguarding processes a good going-over, then check that we took them seriously when last they visited. If that goes well, we stay ‘good’. If not, or if we’re better, they invite themselves for a second day. Some of you may have relations a bit like this. Or as Father Dougal said of bishops ‘They come in, they strip the wallpaper, they fumigate the place and then they’re gone’.
Why do Heads moan on about it so much, I hear you cry? There’s nothing wrong with being accountable. There’s nothing Ofsted do that isn’t a reasonable public service, but the conclusions drawn from it have, in recent years, been a bit outré. People lose their jobs after critical comments in reports. Sometimes that may be right, but really? Inspection, like Radio 2, shouldn’t really be telling you anything you don’t know already. So my zen-like calm, which may just be old age, suffers a ruffle in the middle of the day. Truly, when the call comes, you’ll be among the first to know. We’ve got the text ready.
A chum stops me as we enter the building at crack of dawn this morning. ‘Are they coming, or should we stand down?’ Wish I knew. The talk is that they’re behind schedule, but then sometimes they’re bang on. This is literally 50% of what heads talk about when we meet, and I can’t do anything other than issue contradictory instructions: ‘Get organised early! Settle down!’
And year 11 had their final full day in school and assembly, shirt-signing etc. All very pleasant and cordial, a song from the Head of Year and a Purple Rain pianist who thanked his 270 peers for ‘accepting me as who I am, so I don’t have to feel ashamed’.
We had a non-Ofsted visitor a bit ago who was very pleasant. We talked buildings and went for a wander around to see the hordes at work. I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge on this over the years and can have a superficial discussion on BB99, nickel sulphide inclusion and post-torsioned concrete with anyone. I showed him the hall and it was a sight to behold, GCSE Dance warming up with stretches, chairs, bowler hats etc. He hadn’t realised that dance was offered at GCSE or A level and had to assimilate this into his worldview. I wondered, as I watched the cogs turning, how many others are oblivious to the arts, which may be why they’re not bothered about the cuts. If you don’t know what can be done, how can you regret its passing? The parents at the Dance Showcase knew, and some volunteered to help campaign to protect the arts.
Dance, like PE, reaches the parts other subjects can’t, and it’s physically good for you. Children need exercise and confidence: dance and football both provide it. At a time of obesity, worrying mental health problems among the young and shifting accountability through Ofsted and others, schools will have to balance their budgets by looking closely at anything that falls out of the Ebacc, but none of those involve physical exercise or self-expression. It just doesn’t make any sense. ‘Look where you’re running’ Dad shouted last night. Too right.