6 Mar

The Western Mail ran an article recently that discussed possible plans on the horizon from Estyn to move towards a no notice inspection period.

Now on the face of it you may think this is a good idea. It will, theoretically, ensure that schools are evaluated in an organic environment and, again theoretically, allow teachers to be free of building up towards an Estyn inspection. So, in theory, great. However, the picture is not quite that rosy.

Anyone who has come into contact with a teacher heading towards an inspection will know that it puts a huge amount of pressure on them. Already ridiculous working hours extend beyond anything remotely resembling acceptable. The pressure during these weeks can cause mental, physical and emotional exhaustion which impacts not only on them as individuals but also on their pupils and families.

Inspections are an increasingly high-stakes activity for schools with increasing numbers of teachers responding negatively to the experience that they have had. Particularly when dealing with contracted inspectors (rather than those employed directly by ESTYN). It may appear superficially attractive therefore, to remove or reduce the notice period to seek to minimise the stress and to do so by being far more flexible in the scheduling of inspections. However, anecdotal evidence from England state that the effect of very limited or no notice inspections has been to increase stress because an inspection is anticipated at almost any time. We know that stress at work is disproportionately high amongst teachers with impacts on standards. Do we really wish to create a policy that adds to those existing issues?

Equally importantly I’m not convinced that making schools ‘inspection ready’ at any time is likely to enhance the quality or regularity of self-evaluation or performance. No doubt one particularly negative consequence which is that schools would either be obliged to, or would feel obliged to, constantly upgrade their performance data, given that inspections are now so heavily data-driven and that data governs lines of enquiry with which inspectors enter schools. In England reducing the notice period created a significant bureaucratic and administrative burden on senior leadership that did little to enhance the school’s performance.


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