Are schools hiding bad behaviour from Ofsted?

Adrian Elliott's picture
Michael Gove has claimed that schools are concealing the extent of bad behaviour from Ofsted by ensuring incompetent teachers and poorly behaved children stay at home during inspections. How likely is this?

As far as staff are concerned, remember schools only get 48 hours notice before an inspection. During that time the head would have to tell the member of staff concerned and employ a supply teacher who she/he is confident would be preferable to the person told to stay away - no easy task in many places.
But above all this has to be accomplished in total secrecy . In reality, in every school I have known the entire community - staff,pupils,parents,governors would know within hours.
We are then expected to believe that nothing is then leaked to the inspectors -no parent ever writes to Ofsted, no disgruntled member of staff, who has fallen out with the head, tips off the local press. And the facts are kept quiet in the dozens of conversations between inspectors and pupils which are a key part of all inspections.

And this issue of secrecy applies just as much to the pupils told to stay away. Michael Gove apparently believes they do not tell their friends about a highly unusual request not to come into school .And If their friends do know they do not tell their parents and so on.

The most shocking thing about this story, which has been picked up by much of the media, is the sheer naivete of believing that a school where behaviour is poor can be transformed by the absence of one or two teachers and half a dozen pupils.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 09:21

I think one thing we do now know about Michael Gove is that he doesn't really understand what goes on in most schools.

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 09:29

Have you ever met a teacher? This happens all the time. I am amazed anybody would try to deny it.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 09:37

I am sure Adrian Elliott will want to answer for himself but if you get his excellent book, State Schools since the 1950s. The Good News (and I would thoroughly recommend it), you will see that he is an ex headteacher and Ofsted inspector.

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 09:46

That was my point. He's willing to say absolutely anything, no matter how ridiculous, to defend OFSTED, even something that most teachers have experienced as a fact of life. Even by the usual LSN standards of denialism this one is incredible. He must feel embarrassed when he meets classroom teachers.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 09:54

Andrew - where do you work? Anywhere near a school?
I am a teacher with 16 years experience. I have never seen it. As I work on supply, I would hope to pick up extra trade if it was true! Or am I crap too?
What IS true in my experience is that heads know only too well where any unsatisfactory teacher might be, and are willing to have this exposed by Ofsted to enable either staff development or disciplinary action (remember heads are also measured against the schools devolopment/action plan too).
There was one occasion when I was asked to provide supply cover for an Ofsted inspection. The teacher concerned was in her NQT year. Sadly for her, she had suffered a very painful family bereavement the week before and was in bits. Although in a normal week she might well have worked, the head and governing chair felt it was nothing but cruel to do this to her, so gave her compassionate leave so that the stress of the inspection was not added to her grief. I bet many heads (because they are decent human beings) would do the same. Sadly, parents jumped to their own "conclusions".
Maybe you and Gove respond to playground tittle tattle a bit too much.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 10:20

Andrew Old

I went through two Ofsted inspections as a head, then worked for eight years as an inspector for Ofsted. Recently I have been working as a school improvement partner and and have experienced inspections in a number of schools in that role. When this was reported yesterday an Ofsted spokesman said they did not believe it to be a widespread phenomenon. Nor do I , for the reasons I gave in my piece. It doesn't happen all the time.

Jottie's picture
Tue, 24/05/2011 - 10:19

The school I used to work at did this all the time. They had pupils from other schools while the school was being inspected. In fact the head is 'helping' another school out this very week by having their disruptive pupils while the school is having Ofsted.
Anyone who says it doesn't happen is naive in the extreme!

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 10:49

Guess who wrote this about the accuracy of OFSTED reports:

"..if a school has been wonderfully politically correct, it can get away with a good report - but it may be a hotbed of bad behaviour. and indiscipline."

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 11:17

Andrew - that is a totally separate point...

Big Jim's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 12:22

This has happened during 3 of the 5 OFSTEDs I have been through.

OFSTED 1: The HOD, knowing full well that there were no schemes of work or resources in place and that the entire department were winging it, mysteriously disappeared for the duration of OFSTED. So did several other teachers all of whom were not rated by SLT.

OFSTED 2: All of the EBD pupils were on a residential for the duration. Many of the weaker members of staff were ill.

OFSTED 3: Several weaker members of staff were on "gardening leave" and replaced with supply for the duration.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 13:19

The trouble with many of these stories about teachers bunking off during OFSTED is that they are anecdotal. In order to test the veracity of the claims we would need to know schools, times and names of staff. Schools get little notice of an inspection so if any pupils were on residential visits these would have been planned a long time before. And it should not be concluded that just because a teacher is off sick s/he is a weak teacher trying to avoid inspection. S/he might genuinely be ill.

OFSTED inspectors talk to parents and pupils. They send out questionnaires to parents. It would be very difficult to hide weak teachers or badly behaving pupils. As far as the latter are concerned, the school would have to get consent at short notice from the parents to allow their child to stay at home for the duration. I don't think many parents would willingly agree to this.

But, of course, if Mr Gove says it, then it must be true, like his use of the discounted OECD PISA 2000 figures, his lie about an OFSTED report into Pupil Referral Units, his economy with the truth about the YouGov survey into the public's views on scrapping the EMA, his incompetent Maths and so on.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 13:25

Instead of believing Mr Gove's dim view of the professionalism of teachers during an OFSTED inspection, read this story by one teacher whose preoccupation with an inspection resulting in her being distant during her mother's last days - to her lasting regret.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 13:28

The things referred to by Big Jim could not be organised in the 48 hours notice which schools have had for Ofsted inspections for the last five years. And as I said in my piece a school is in a very fortunate position if it can find 'several' good supply teachers at such short notice to replace weaker members of staff.

The truth is that for the vast majority of heads the risk of being found out (and the potential consequent threat to the judgement in the report on their own leadership) far outweighs any doubtful advantage to be gained by replacing,at most, a tiny percentage of their staff.

Andrew Old's comment that I would say anything to defend Ofsted is rubbish. I worked for the organisation, I didn't run it!. I have been and remain highly critical of many aspects of Ofsted. I simply happen to agree with them on this particular point.

Jamie's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 13:47

Well, I don't have an awful lot of experience to base this on and, Adrian, I have full respect for you having been a headteacher and Ofsted inspector. You might well be right, or at last partly right in what you say.
However, when you say things like this you should expect to be disagreed with.
1. 48 hours seems like plenty of time for a determined staff to get rid of their problems. It may well be that they feel, rightly or wrongly, that concealing seriously badly behaved pupils is one of their top priorities in an Ofsted inspection.
2. The entire community would very probably agree. It would be in the interests of all the people you mentioned to make sure the school gets a good inspection.
3. I don't know much about it, but it seems that you're portraying it as an operation in which everyone actively participates; it seems to me that it could much more easily be a case of a few people arranging matters and everybody else, probably very nervous, feeling it was in their best interests not to ask questions. This could well include the troublemaking students, who might well feel they are better off and might not be in a hurry to return to their normal timetable.
4. As Big Jim says, it's quite possible to find pretexts, such as weak teachers being off sick during an inspection.
5. And that last paragraph...I think it would be safe to say that teachers would agree that a single disruptive individual, or a small group, is quite capable of ruining a class or school experience. Are you sure you want to accuse other people of sheer naivete, Adrian?

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 15:27

Jamie, I didn't say that everyone actively participates but that many people would have knowledge of it . And it would never be true that the entire community agrees with it. Even in the best schools there are always some parents,staff or governors who have negative views about the head and SLT and who would report it to Ofsted or the media.I know that I would never have got away with this.It seems
inconceivable that, if this is a widespread practice it has not been more widely reported. For example, Ofsted monitors staff and pupil absence over the year and,of course has access to the same figures during inspections. And yet, to my knowledge,in none of the 18 annual reports since Ofsted was set up has HMCI ever drawn attention to differential absence rates between inspections and the rest of the year or ever suggested that this practice was a problem. And actually heads and SLT have so much admin and paperwork to do in that 48 hours that rushing round finding unnecessary supply staff wouldn't be top of most agendas.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 15:51

Mr Gove claims he has been told by teachers that schools have been hiding bad behaviour for years. The only proof offered is what some teachers have told him, he says. If he has been told such stories then he should immediately send OFSTED back to the schools concerned. He should not use these stories to make generalised comments about all schools.

That is not to say there isn't bad behaviour in schools. However, Mr Gove's emphasis on how much he alleges is hidden draws attention away from pupils' poor behaviour to the supposed actions of schools during OFSTED inspections.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 16:43

If this practice is so widespread as Gove claims, then how does he explain bad Ofsted reports? This surely proves Ofsted's impartiality and expertise?

If it dispiriting to suspect that this type of innuendo might be designed to discredit the school system, over which he presides and the teaching profession. What is the point of this type of scare mongering statement and what sort of confidence can the public have in a Secretary of State for Education who once again looks as if he is intent of destablising education in this country?

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 16:46

If this practice is so widespread as Gove claims, then how does he explain bad Ofsted reports? This surely proves Ofsted’s impartiality and expertise?

It is dispiriting to suspect that this type of innuendo might be designed to discredit the teaching profession and the school system, over which he presides. What is the point of this type of scare mongering statement and what sort of confidence can the public have in a Secretary of State for Education who once again looks as if he is intent of destablising education in this country?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 17:51

The DfE press release (4 April 2011) about the new discipline powers says:

“Behaviour in good schools is not a serious problem but overall it remains a big concern for parents. Evidence shows there is much to do.” These concerns are then listed.

This would seem to uphold the evidence from OFSTED and the Steer report – that bad behaviour is not as widespread as is implied by the headline in the Mail. In which case why did Mr Gove mention anecdotal evidence which appears to contradict his own press release? Is this another example of the journalist in Mr Gove trumping the Secretary of State – reaching for the soundbite rather than serious analysis?

The Mail’s article concentrated more on what Mr Gove said at the launch of the guidance than what is in the press release. It also referred to one comment made in evidence to the Education Select Committee last year – one comment among evidence which was more comprehensive and nuanced than the Mail would suggest (more on this later). We must remember, however, that the Mail’s reporting of education matters is unreliable. Last week the paper was found to have misreported two items on teaching. A Mail article in December used the discounted PISA 2000 data and contained errors including saying that the UK had fallen behind the Slovak Republic (we hadn’t – the Slovak republic was ten places below the UK).

Charlotte Mooney's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 18:46

I actually experienced the reverse of what Gove describes. A few months into my first job, we had an inspection. The inspectors told the Head that they didn't need to come into my classroom, as I was a probationer and was being observed by the school anyway. However, the Head insisted they come in and observe one of my lessons. I knew I was the weakest teacher in the school, was struggling, and looked forward to getting some useful feedback that might help me overcome the huge behaviour problems in my classroom. No such luck - the inspectors watched my lesson, told me it was not good enough, and left. No suggestions for improvement, just a further blow to my confidence.
I've never seen schools hide staff or pupils from OFSTED, but if they did I wouldn't be surprised if they did. Why be open about your difficulties if all you will get is a failing grade? Perhaps if inspectors took a more problem-solving approach, and saw it as their job to help schools improve, rather than catch them out, then we wouldn't have these claims. If Gove really believes this deceptive behaviour is going on, he needs to look at why a school would hide their problems rather than fix them, and focus on that, instead of springing last-minute inspections on us when we're already under pressure.

Jamie's picture
Tue, 05/04/2011 - 22:51

Fair enough, Adrian - thanks for your polite reply.
I'm still quite an inexperienced teacher, but it still seems to me that your saying this never happens or could not happen is an overstatement.
I think I'll ask some of my colleagues at school for their opinions. Cheers.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 08:52

CharMooney’s concerns about inspections being unsupportive is backed up by (uncorrected) evidence to the Education Select Committee last year. Commenting on OFSTED inspections, one witness said:

“… what you don’t want to do is have this punitive model. At the moment, there is this sense that Ofsted is just here to pass judgment-there is no sense that there’s the kind of support that there used to be with the kind of LEA inspection model. I think that has kind of gone missing down the years somewhere”
It was from this evidence that the much-quoted remark about OFSTED evidence on behaviour was not worth the paper it was written on.

It’s a pity that commentators didn’t also pick up on evidence by witnesses which stressed the importance of support for class teachers by senior management teams, consistency of approach and the importance of training teachers in classroom management.

Ros Coffey's picture
Wed, 06/04/2011 - 10:30

We have in the past used the feedback from Ofsted Inspectors as part of the evidence base for potential capability procedures. Frankly there is no point in hiding poor teachers, the results show you were poor teaching is occurring. I have, on occasion, known poor teachers go sick at the time of an inspection however they get very short shrift from the rest of the staff on their return to school.

Andrew Old's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 07:22

Probably worth adding a couple of links.

Here's a recent new story about a school where OFSTED said the behaviour was good:

And here's what people on a teachers' forum thought about the claims made here:

Jamie's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 09:14

Well, I think Tom Bennett (who posts on the TES link) should carry weight - he is the resident expert on behaviour management(officially, I mean - he has been hired by TES to answer behaviour management questions).

I did speak to two more experienced teachers at my school. They both agreed that it was very likely to happen in certain cases.

And honestly, I think even with only a few years teaching under my belt, I think I can say that one badly behaved pupil CAN ruin a whole class - especially when the class is undergoing an Ofsted inspection.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 11:47

Mr Gove launched the Behaviour and Discipline in Schools Guidance earlier this week. There is a consultation process.

The Select Committee report underpinning the document examined OFSTED, Sir Alan Steer (author of “Behaviour and the role of Home-School Agreements”), union surveys, and evidence from five witnesses.* Evidence from the latter stressed the need for support from senior management teams and for training. There was a mismatch between evidence given by the five witnesses* and that given by OFSTED and Sir Alan. Nevertheless, the Select Committee confirmed the conclusion of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England that “it would be entirely possible to produce convincing reports based on anecdote/individual experience… to argue both for and against the idea that discipline in schools is a substantial problem” and that there was substantial variation in teachers’ experience.

The DfE told the Select Committee that the greatest demotivating factor for teachers was not pupil behaviour (cited by 31%) but workload (56%) followed by initiative overload (39%) and a ‘target driven culture’ (35%)., although 68% of 1,400 teachers thought that negative behaviour was causing teachers, particularly less-experienced ones, to leave.

It is a pity that information about the document and consultation has been obscured by publicity about whether schools are under-reporting bad behaviour and hysterical headlines about an education system in meltdown.

References: (uncorrected draft)

*Katharine Birbalsingh, ex-Deputy Head, Daisy Christodolou, a Teach First Ambassador, Sue Cowley, Educational Author, Trainer and Presenter, Paul Dix, Lead Trainer and Director, Pivotal Education, and Tom Trust, Former Elected Member , General Teaching Council.

Big Jim's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 14:22

"The things referred to by Big Jim could not be organised in the 48 hours notice which schools have had for Ofsted inspections for the last five years. And as I said in my piece a school is in a very fortunate position if it can find ‘several’ good supply teachers at such short notice to replace weaker members of staff."
I would seriously question the competence of any senior management team who could not (if they chose to) organise what I described in 48 hours. You would hope that the number of "unteacheables" would be small and the number of incompetent staff smaller. Are you seriously suggesting that leadership teams are not capable of organising somewhere else for a small number of pupils to be for a few days with 48 hours notice? Are you really suggesting that it is difficult to get a few supply teachers in? How many incompetent staff would a school have to employ that it would make it impossible to get supply cover for them during an inspection?

Big Jim's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 14:29

"The truth is that for the vast majority of heads the risk of being found out (and the potential consequent threat to the judgement in the report on their own leadership) far outweighs any doubtful advantage to be gained by replacing,at most, a tiny percentage of their staff."

Who is going to tell them? The staff who have to work in the school aren't going to want the stress and workload that come with being in special measures are they? The difficult kids that go on a residential are hardly going to complain. Nor are their parents who get rid of them for a few days. So how exactly would the inspectors find out the motivation behind sending a load of difficult year 7-10 pupils on a residential? How and why would they find out when the trip was organised? How would they discover the level of competence of the absent staff? Why would they question the reasons given for staff absence over a 2-3 day period?

I have worked in schools that have successfully hidden poor behaviour from inspectors and you're suggestion that it is impossible to do so basically means that you are questioning my honesty and integrity which I don't particularly appreciate.

Andrew Old's picture
Sun, 10/04/2011 - 06:42

Another TES thread here for those interested in the reality not the fantasy:

Blazer's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 18:16

In the consortium that my school belongs to it is common practice to loan staff to schools being OFSTEDED. One school in the group received a science teacher from half a dozen other schools. On the Friday before an inspection we were introduced to our 'new' Assistant HT borrowed from the school down the road. We have loaned other staff to schools for the duration of OFSTED. I don't recall ever sending kids out ofschool, in fact we have cancelled trips that were due to go out to make sure all classes had their regular teachers and not supply or cover supervisors!

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 10/01/2012 - 18:30

Another one for anyone interested in what teachers actually report seeing happen during OFSTED:

Samuel Morris's picture
Sat, 25/02/2012 - 10:36

I must confess I work in a large secondary school and I am a member of the SLT. We have been inspected since January 2012 under the new framework. On the two days OFSTED were in our school we had no cover lessons, all staff (apart from two maternity leave) were present. We did not cancel a scheduled trip on the first day for a Year 8 class, and we made sure it went with the pre-arranged strong and competent staff.

We were asked by the inspection team to identify any teaching staff we did not want to be seen and why. We put forward one member of staff who had recently had long term sickness and had just returned to a full time timetable and another who the Head was looking at starting competency procedures.

Our cover supervisor team were all ready if needed and knowing that we would be inspected this academic year, we have spent time ensuring many procedures are all up to speed, it is common sense! As for the students, well they are not really an issue anyway, and the thought of picking out a few who can be disruptive and telling them to stay away I think is very sad practice and not one thankfully I have ever experienced in my career.

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