I’m a bit overwhelmed with things to do at the moment, so I was planning to hold off on the blogging for a few weeks. But I can’t hold back as this is on my own doorstep. Two schools in my home city of Coventry (one ten minutes walk from my house) have had inspection reports published recently. Both are worth noting.
Firstly, we have Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School. This report is notable for the extent to which the inspectors ignore everything they have been told. I’ll quickly run through the background for anyone new to this blog, or this issue. In December, OFSTED put out guidance saying:
Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. Do 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.
We then saw a period where reports that contradicted this were held up or rewritten, and a few weeks later, Sir Michael Wilshaw told inspectors:
I still see inspection reports, occasionally from HMI, which ignore this and earlier guidance and, irritatingly, give the impression that we are still telling teachers how to teach. Let me give you a few examples from recent reports I have just read:
‘Teaching will improve if more time is given to independent learning’…
…, inspectors should report on the outcomes of teaching rather than its style. So please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it doesn’t conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.
Yet what do we have in the report for Cardinal Wiseman? Well, it was originally published on the 7 February, long after all these warnings, and has been republished since, yet it manages to include the following:
Students sometimes rely too much on their teachers and do not help themselves to learn…
What does the school need to do to improve further? Improve the quality of teaching and students’ achievement, particularly for the more able, for pupils eligible for the pupil premium, and in mathematics, by… helping students develop their skills in learning independently…
The quality of teaching requires improvement… In less effective lessons there is often a passive attitude from students…
Teachers do not encourage students to think things through for themselves and to turn to each other before looking to adults for support. As a consequence, students often rely too much on teachers for help…. In the best lessons, teachers provide activities that motivate and engage students and encourage them to take an active part in their learning.
Once again, the Chief Inspector has been ignored by the inspectors on the ground. Of course, while it is notable that this is still going on, we have seen this countless times before. The other report from Coventry, that of Blue Coat School, raised entirely different issues, some of which can be found in this newspaper article or this letter from the headteacher. 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.