First Impressions of the New OFSTED Handbook

July 31, 2014

The new OFSTED handbook is out and can be found here. Although it was meant to be simplified, it replaces not just the old handbook but the old subsidiary guidance and, therefore, is actually quite lengthy. I am too busy to be able to read it from cover to cover, but I have had time to look into a few of the key issues that I’ve been blogging about.

The new handbook really spells out what I would want it to on observations; stating that there is no grading and no required style of teaching.

From the description of what should happen during an inspection:

The key objectives of lesson observations are to inform the evaluation of the overall quality of teaching over time and its contribution to learning and achievement, and to assess the behaviour and safety of pupils and the impact of leadership and management in the classroom. When inspectors carry out observations in lessons, they should not grade the quality of teaching for that individual session or indeed the overall quality of the lesson…

…Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. They will not look for a preferred methodology but must record aspects of teaching and learning that they consider are effective, and identify ways in which teaching and learning can be improved…

…Inspectors will not expect teachers to prepare lesson plans for the inspection…

…When giving feedback to teachers following lesson observations, inspectors should not provide an overall grade for the lesson or for the quality of teaching (numerically or in words). If asked, inspectors should provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of what they have observed. Inspectors must ensure that this feedback does not constitute a view about whether the teacher is a ‘good’ teacher or otherwise, or indeed whether the quality of teaching itself was ‘good’ or otherwise, as neither of these will be graded.

The guidance on how to grade teaching and learning in a school makes the same point and spells out what inspectors should not be looking out for or taking objection to:

Inspectors should not grade the quality of teaching in individual lesson observations, learning walks or equivalent activities. In arriving at a judgement on the overall quality of teaching, inspectors must considerstrengths and weaknesses of teaching observed across the broad range of lessons. These must then be placed in the context of other evidence of pupils’ learning and progress over time, including work in their books and folders, how well they can explain their knowledge and understanding in subjects, and outcomes in tests and examinations…

…Ofsted does not favour any particular teaching style and inspectors must not give the impression that it does. School leaders and teachers should decide for themselves how best to teach, and be given the opportunity, through questioning by inspectors, to explain why they have made the decisions they have and provide evidence of the effectiveness of their choices. Moreover, inspectors must not inspect or report in any way that is not stipulated in the framework or this handbook. For example, they should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time. It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to expect that all work in all lessons will be matched to the specific needs of each individual pupil. Inspectors should not expect to see pupils working on their own or in groups for periods of time in all lessons. They should not make the assumption that a particular way of working is always necessary or desirable. Its effectiveness depends on the impact of the quality and challenge of the work set. Pupils may rightly be expected to sit and listen to teachers, which of itself is an ‘active’ method through which knowledge and understanding can be acquired effectively. Inspectors should not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding. When observing teaching, inspectors should be ‘looking at’ and reflecting on the effectiveness of what is being done to promote learning, not ‘looking for’ specific or particular things. Inspectors should gather robust evidence to judge and report on how well pupils acquire knowledge, learn well and engage with lessons.

It also states clearly that the information that inspectors will want to see includes “records of the evaluation of the quality of teaching, but inspectors should not expect to see records of graded lesson observations” [their underlining]. This really gives managers little excuse for grading lessons. This needs to be widely publicised, and I would hope that trade unions would start making sure their representatives and members are fully aware that any attempt to grade teachers in observations is neither required by OFSTED, nor in line with OFSTED’s practices, but entirely down to the willingness of managers to grasp at excuses to label their teachers.

I’m hoping that the guidance on marking is vague enough that it might help break the delusion that marking must be acted on in writing to count. As before inspectors are to look for “[c]onsistently high quality marking and constructive feedback” as part of outstanding teaching but elsewhere they are simply looking for “whether marking, assessment and testing are carried out in line with the school’s policy and whether they are used effectively to help teachers improve pupils’ learning”. I hope this causes some schools to reflect on whether their marking policy actually helps teachers and students, or is there only to appease OFSTED.

You may also recall that here I described a school whch had been marked down, despite good results, apparently for an achievement gap:

Roughly speaking, this school has absolutely great results (best in the city in most respects) but has been graded as “Requires Improvement” because the relatively small number of FSM children at the school have, despite doing well, not done as spectacularly well as the non-FSM meals students.

Now this school is known to be one of the best there is in the area, and had been “outstanding” previously. Rumour has it, it’s a school that OFSTED inspectors have been known to send their own children to. While closing the gap between FSM and non-FSM students is important, an OFSTED grade of “Requires Improvement” becomes meaningless if it ignores the great success of the majority of students in the school, and only pays attention to a minority of students. It becomes more than meaningless, but actually ridiculous, if the minority whose results do count are judged, not by the standards of other schools, but by the high standards of the school. In effect, it tells schools that they can do badly in OFSTED if the majority of their students do too well. Rumours from the school involve inspectors who, when observing lessons, were only interested in what FSM pupils did. None of these inspectors appear to be HMI. If this is what OFSTED’s emphasis on “closing the gap” amounts to, it’s as destructive to schools as any of their other demands.

This now seems to have been addressed. Guidance on achievement says:

Where in-school gaps are narrowing, inspectors should check that this is because the progress and attainment of disadvantaged pupils is rising, and not because the progress or attainment of non-disadvantaged pupils is falling. Where an in-school attainment gap exists or widens, inspectors should consider whether this is because disadvantaged pupils attain more highly than other pupils nationally, while non-disadvantaged pupils in the school attain even more highly.

Several footnotes might also help make judgements based on the achievement gap less unfair. It is stated that that inspectors should be “considering in-school gaps in the context of national gaps”. Outstanding achievement now has an exception to the rule that the results of the disadvantaged most be rapidly approaching other groups: “[w]here the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is high, any in-school attainment gaps need not be closing rapidly”. Good achievement has a similar exception: “[w]here the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is high, in-school attainment gaps may exist”.

I can see why OFSTED were confident about meeting me last week. The new handbook does seem to have addressed most of the points I’ve raised. However, I may well return to it if I uncover anything that seems less positive. Let me know if you find anything. Also, when term starts, let me know if inspectors are doing what they are supposed to. Just today I got an email from somebody, who went through an OFSTED during last half-term, telling me:

…the inspector asked to see my planning and she graded me and the lesson she’d observed.  She said she knew she shouldn’t be doing it, but did anyway!!  I was most surprised about both.

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  1. […] First Impressions of the New OFSTED Handbook. […]

  2. Congratulations, Andrew, for all your hard work and persistence.

    These are huge achievements – and actually such specific guidance for Ofsted inspectors provides teachers with the opportunity to raise questions about the manner in which they are observed and assessed in general school practice if the regime is unsupportive and feels closer to a stealth inspection than to professional development.

  3. […] HERE for great news if you’re expecting ‘the’ phone call next […]

  4. Well done to you Andrew in ensuring that no one pedagogy is favoured by Ofsted and therefore SLT.
    There will of course be other intended or maybe unintended negative consequences for teachers which I think will largely revolve around performance management. Ofsted is expecting robust correlation between results and pay whatever your pay agreement is. It will be interesting to see how SLTs and governors intend to demonstrate they have fulfilled those requirements.
    The emphasis on progress over time is really welcome as is the marking of books. However SLT members who are in ‘charge’ of marking where I work don’t like it when you correct spelling and say it won’t help children progress! (I teach languages).

  5. Yes I reckon the new enforced orthodoxy will shift to expecting certain marking procedures regardless of age/subject/ impact. I’m very pro marking and think close scrutiny of pupils’ work alongside results is the best way to judge progress but wary that a ‘one size fits all’ mentality will prevail. It’s much easier to improve learning via pupil response to marking in English and the humanities than in maths for example- wouldn’t want maths teachers pilloried for not doing enough pupil response or doing it just to tick a box with no impact on actual learning.
    My other worry about having an algorithm for achievement is that for primaries with small cohorts, data fluctuates wildly and I’m not at all confident that their ‘ confidence intervals’ actually really does take this into account. This year, our year 6 had 16 children- each ‘worth’ 6%. Then in December, two new children arrived. Results fell by 12% as a result- or from outstanding to requires improvement in one fell swoop. Maybe an ofsted team would listen to our explanation, or maybe they would see it as an ‘excuse’.

  6. Actually further to my previous comment and reassured re the point about data. However so usual certain sections have a very ‘secondary’ tone to them and the footprints of Trojan horse are everywhere. On my ‘to do’ list:
    Volunteering in the community seems to be an absolute requirement- we will need to address this ASAP. I fear old ladies across the nation will be the recipients of ks1 and early years volunteering whether they want to be ‘helped’ or not.
    Finding out how we can show we tackle extremism. Not sure how relevant this is in primary but a Trojan horse nursery was pilloried for having the temerity to suggest in was more of a secondary thing.
    Ditto how children are made aware of the risks of fgm and sexual exploitation.
    Finding some posh kids for our kids to mix with to show they can mix with different economic groups.
    Beefing up our teaching about democratic structures- but should be a focus anyway in an election year.
    Feels a bit like the return of community cohesion and the jumping through hoops to,placate ofsted we did then. Not that I am not all in favour of community cohesion- it’s just when it gets codified it becomes tokenistic and done for the wrong reasons

  7. Grrrrrrrr…last post first sentence missed out the bit where I explained that now I have actually read the full handbook…..

    Worries notwithstanding it is a gret improvement- thanks Andrew and others for stirling work.

  8. […] weeks poll is based on the new Ofsted Handbook (for related blog posts, see Scenes From The Battleground, The Learning Spy and cazzypotsblog). Considering Ofsted instructors are now being guided to not […]

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