Recently I became a governor of a primary school that has just had its second Ofsted inspection.  The first inspection, three years ago, concluded that the school was good.   Now the school, despite above average results and having the longest waiting list of any primary school in the area, has been downgraded to inadequate. 

When the school read the draft report they were shocked to find it contained numerous factual  errors.  Once these had been pointed out, Ofsted made a few cosmetic changes to the draft, leaving most of the errors intact.  The governors  therefore decided to apply for an injunction to prevent the publication of the flawed report.  The school wanted Ofsted to conduct a fresh inspection with a new team of inspectors. 

In the event, the school failed to prevent the report being published but the court issued an order requiring Ofsted to release the notes made by the inspectors.  The school hasn’t received the notes yet but hopes that, once they have, they will be in a position to challenge the erroneous conclusions.  Apparently, it is very unusual for Ofsted to be required to release the notes made by members of the inspection team, even though they should be an invaluable source of feedback from which any school could learn.

Ofsted have been given three weeks to make the notes available to the school and I, for one, am agog to see what they contain.  Assuming the absence of redactions and rewriting, the notes should be very revealing.  

Or will they? 

I spent a large part of my career shadowing (i.e.  inspecting) directors as they went through their busy days.  This involved making copious notes as I observed them conducting meetings with customers, suppliers, direct reports and colleagues.  My notes were an essential source of information, providing the basis of the feedback I offered my clients in order to help them decide how best to improve their effectiveness.

So, I know a thing or two about making real-time notes whilst observing people in action.  But I’m glad to say no one ever applied to the courts forcing me to produce them!  If they had, it would have been embarrassing.  You see, my notes were recorded using my own unique form of short hand.  In the margins were unflattering cartoon sketches of the people I was watching, various doodles, tally marks recording how many times people interrupted, said ‘you know’, swore, etc.  I even used to write down verbatim some of the absurd catch-phrases directors used.  Examples were; ‘Let’s get to where the rubber hits the road’, ‘It’s not the sausage, it’s the sizzle’, ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat’, ‘It beats as it sweeps as it cleans’.   

My notes were comprehensible to me, and me alone.  Definitely not for public consumption.

Now you know why I can’t wait to see the notes made by Ofsted inspectors!

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