I can honestly say that I have started several blogs, but time and time again I have wondered whether I am genuinely adding anything new to the debate or anything that people may benefit from, which surely is a key driver behind blogging – apart from clarifying ones own ideas…which would be a painfully narcissistic way of going about things. So, there are several blogs in false start mode on the gird awaiting a push start…
…however, my most recent and strangely the one I’m most likely to place in the public domain is the one I’m least confident about or at least sure about how it will be received. Yes – as the title suggests it is about OFSTED…Yes, I can hear you all either running screaming for the hills declaring that, “Frankly my dear I don’t give a daaaaaaaaaaaamn!” or pugilistically squaring up and saying, “What the F*ck do they know anyway? Wilshaw et al Pft!” (AND I know the benefits of asterisking above all else because my 8 year old daughter explained that this was just like in the Mumford & Sons song that she hears on the radio…it could be a long walk through the teenage years…)
But please bear with me. in this post I will not be attempting to excuse inadequacies in the system – I believe this has been well documented by more preeminent bloggers, teacher tweets and journalists than me…nor will I excuse inspectors who are to use their own framework phrase; “inadequate or requiring improvement” What I do want to do is expose some myths and explain why I feel the need to become an Ofsted Inspector. Also, to let you know, I and 22 other brave people imperiled our souls by going to Bristol (not that going to the city in itself did so) and arrived at the Marriott hotel for the first three days of initial training to become Ofsted Inspectors.
The first task was a typical icebreaker – who are you and why were we there…well, we were all serving heads or deputies (21:2 – I felt a bit outgunned!). I was surprised by the coherence in why we were all there – in no particular order were:
- To improve my own knowledge and understanding of the organisation and what to expect
- To improve my own skills in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of my school
- Because I’ve had a poor experience and want it to be better for others
- Because I have heard of poor experiences and don’t feel that it is acceptable.
- Because it has to be better that we have serving staff inspecting
- To learn from others and hopefully help others develop
And, perhaps most contentiously given recent blogs…
- To improve the organisation/mechanism/organisation from within
All candidates touched on virtually all of these points. As a starting point that has to be positive. (I know there will be those who, upon reading this will go no further and will be sneering – we’re good at that in our profession!) But as I said, bear with me. I appreciate that some may look at the Dementors reference and consider it a lame analogy, but for too many teachers it is a truth, the fear of Ofsted- either their own or their SLTs is debilitating and can be downright dangerous for staff and pupils if allowed to set the agenda instead of what is right for pupils. I mean, let’s be honest here, if you observe teaching where pupils are learning, behaving well and the teacher knows their stuff and can get it across am I going to give a monkeys if they don’t put a mini plenary in at x point in the lesson, or have a seating plan?
So, simply put, why? Well, the quote posted by @VicGoddard seems to point me in the right direction, “We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them.” – William Arthur Ward
With this clearly at the front of my mind I thought perhaps the best place to start would be with some of the myths that surround Ofsted. So why not have a look at the questions below and see how you do…(these are all genuine concerns re Ofsted from teachers and school leaders, some are thinks they have heard, some from other teachers/SLT, some from inspectors who haven’t got it right! some from consultants who are frankly not up to it.)
1. Schools must share a summary of their self evaluation before the inspection? No, they don’t have to. Will it count against them if they don’t? No.
2. The Inspector will use “the call” to investigate the SEF or any other issues – in particular Raise Online. No, it is purely to set up the practicalities and establish a working relationship with the Head. (If, as one of my colleagues experienced where the LI said, “I should advise you now that it is highly likely that your school will be entering Special Measures or RI” complete the call, then call the provider and complain politely but firmly, the inspection will go ahead but with HMI shadowing and evaluating the LI!)
3. Inspectors should show their DBS on arrival. No – just their ID card…it is evidence of person and their DBS status.
4. The grade descriptors in the evaluation schedule determine the Inspection judgements. See page 26 – they are guidance and professional judgements should be used within the context of the school. They are not an exhaustive tick list to be adhered to blindly!
5. Inspectors will aggregate the grades awarded after lesson obs to inform the quality of teaching. No, it is about teaching over time and will triangulate evidence using, books, talking to staff, children, parents, governors, appraisal info, data and what they see in drop ins, not just lesson obs. A quick word re drop ins here – they are part of building a bigger picture of the schoool, in particular behaviour, SMSC, and attitudes to learning as much as they are to get a view of teaching. It is not you the teacher being judged per se.
6. Teachers should not be observed more than once. Again, no…frankly if I had a lesson that went wrong (we all have them) and I was observed again I would feel like I had another opportunity to show what happens in my classroom. For what it’s worth, I had a brilliant EYFS leader who had a nightmare but I was doing a joint obs and asked inspector to go back in 20 minutes as I didn’t feel it represented daily practice – they agreed and we gave the teaching a 1.
7. Inspectors will expect a lesson plan with clear timings of activities, including a plenary. Lots wrong here – they will expect to see a well planned lesson, which matches needs and demonstrates that the teacher knows what they are doing…hardly unreasonable.A lesson plan is not requires…it may help the teacher and may give evidence to Inspector of what the T intends but not required per se. As for expecting a plenary…no, only if it is appropriate, but surely good teaching would show some reflection and assessment at some point in the lesson. (And it shouldn’t be prescribed when!) If you feel a plan will help do one, it can be a bit of a safety net if things don’t quite go as you had thought.)
8. Any written observation notes provided by the senior leader after joint obs can be included in the evidence base. No, nothing that belongs to the school should leave the school.
9. Inspectors must offer feedback to teachers. Yes, but teachers can decline. And detailed feedback will only be offered after 25mins of lesson has been seen, for drop ins teachers can ask, but it will be brief. They cannot get notes unless they apply to Ofsted for them. Look at page 13 para 37 for more info.
10. Inspectors must listen to lower attaining readers – yes see page 14 of the schedule. In fact they will probably listen to a lot more than just the lower attainers. Q’s will involve, who hears you read? Do you like reading? Why? How often does someone hear you read? This is about gauging what the school is doing and does the picture make sense – is what the school saying a reality.
11. Expected progress is defined by ofsted as 2 NC levels between KS 1 & 2 and 3 NC levels between KS 2 & 4. Yes, but not defined by Ofsted, but by the DFE.
12. Inspectors must guarantee the anonymity of individuals they interview. No, not if it includes safeguarding information. Otherwise yes.
13. If there is a likelihood that the school could be judged as inadequate the Headteacher should be informed as soon as the inspection starts. No! this happens but shouldn’t, it should be once evidence has been gathered and should be at the meeting at end of day 1. If it happens earlier, it is indicative that data is the key driving force behind the inspection which should not be the case and I would advise you to challenge and complain.
14. It is possible for overall effectiveness to be inadequate but the school does not need a formal category of concern. True – see page 21 of the framework, capacity to improve plays a large role here.
15. Inspectors will scrutinise full details about performance managements & salaries of all member of staff. No, It will be anonymised and delected individuals. See pg 17 of guidance and Subsidary guidance pg 25 para 105
Finally, I would say to everyone , as a Deputy Headteacher, I believe I am in a very privileged position observing teachers. I learn lots and am aware just how much they care about the outcomes for their children. So, with this in mind – if I become an Inspector, do you really believe I want you to do badly? Am I really going to nitpick? Believe me, I would much rather give positive feedback than on where I have to explain why it was a poor lesson and give guidance – but I will if I have to, because as I said to a colleague who left the profession recently – “Would you want your daughter in your class day in day out – if the answer is no, then there is a problem.”
As for how to reform Ofsted, Sam Freedman seems to hit the nail on the head with this blog.
However, I would probably also argue that there needs to be much more time allowed for teachers to hone their skills and pedagogy, with set time given to study and research projects, built into the appraisal scheme and School Development Plan, as this should have an impact upon the school. I would then include this as part of the schedule. I would also look at those who have taken schools from a category to good or outstanding and invite them to become inspectors instead of treating them like pariahs. They have been brave, done what was required and can help other with practical advice in how to improve.
There are probably other misconceptions I haven’t broached – please feel free to ask me. I should add that I am not yet an inspector, but will endeavour to answer your queries and if I don’t know will ask those that might! And, to those who query why we need an inspectorate at all…really? Whilst there are inadequacies in what currently exists, I remember an educational landscape pre inspections and frankly it was woeful. There needs to be some form of quality assurance but with greater emphasis on how to improve and support to do so, not just telling.
Oh, and to quote my recently departed mother, “If you don’t like something, stop whinging about it and do something that makes a difference.” In my case it is improving information about Ofsted and becoming an Inspector so others will at least have a better experience and we can work together to make it more useful and effective!