A study by Dr Andrew Clapham of the School of Education at Nottingham Trent University has explored the impact of the decision in 2012 to give schools just half-a-day’s notice of inspection.
The research comes after the chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said in 2013 that some schools were “putting on a show” for inspectors.
Dr Clapham, however, finds that rather than putting on a show for the duration of an inspection, “constant readiness by schools to undergo scrutiny” has become the daily working conditions for teachers.
He explained: “Ofsted’s introduction of short-notice inspections ensured that the schools in question could not game the system just for the time period leading up to an inspection.
“The schools and the teachers in the study were constantly ready for inspection, with the result that fabricated conditions for inspection success actually became the day-to-day conditions of their working lives.
“This is a pattern which could be repeated across the country as school leaders and teachers work in permanent readiness for an Ofsted inspection.”
Dr Clapham, whose paper has been published in the British Educational Research Journal, carried out his investigations within the context of two English schools, speaking to teachers at the beginning and nearing the end of their careers.
He praises the teachers that he saw during his research, emphasising that they are investing “emotional, physical and intellectual capital” into this state of perpetual readiness, which was “anything other than putting on a show”.
He added: “In fact, the majority of teachers want to be the best they can for themselves and their students, and don’t plan lessons just to fit an ‘outstanding’ template.”
However, despite this, the paper warns that adopting a permanent “inspection-ready” approach had consequences for risk-taking and creativity.
It states: “The constant regime of inspection readiness was not one that fostered creativity and risk-taking. Indeed the opposite was the case. The key informants reported that the teaching environments in their schools had become so inspection-facing that identikit inspection-ready lessons were promoted as the way to inspection success.
“The stakes for the two schools in this study were so high in relation to inspection that they could not take chances.”