Archive for January, 2014

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OFSTED Quotations About Independence

January 31, 2014

The following are recent quotations from OFSTED publications, referring to independence and independent learning. Spot the odd one out.

From the December 2013 OFSTED handbook:

Not all aspects of learning, for example pupils’ engagement, interest, concentration, determination, resilience and independence, may be seen in a single observation.

From the December 2013 additional guidance for inspectors:

Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable.

From HCMI’s letter to inspectors (January 22nd, 2014) referring to the guidance quoted above:

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’…

…In summary, 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.

From the OFSTED report for Our Lady and St Chad Catholic Sports College, inspected 9-10 January, and published today:

Behaviour is not outstanding because students across the school have yet to demonstrate through their progress exceptional independence…

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Last Week’s OFSTED Story in the Times

January 30, 2014

I did promise I’d return to the news stories about OFSTED. When writing the recent blogposts about OFSTED’s chaos over recent reports and inspectors ignoring every word Sir Michael Wilshaw says, it’s very easy to assume that their general hopelessness, love of trendy teaching and current state of apparent crisis is widely known. Actually, until last weekend, they were often presented in the media as a cadre of ruthlessly efficient, right-wing enforcers imposing every whim of Michael Gove and intent on privatising children. That’s why recent stories publicising the reality are so important.

Last week saw a report in the Times (behind a paywall, sorry) claiming:

Pressure is mounting for Ofsted to be overhauled or scrapped as supporters of Michael Gove accuse school inspectors of being trapped by 1960s “progressive” approaches to learning.

Civitas, a right-of-centre think-tank, is to call for a new inspectorate for academies and free schools in a pamphlet to be published soon. It will argue that the Education Secretary’s wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching is being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who are stifling innovation.

Policy Exchange, another right-leaning think-tank set up by Mr Gove himself, also plans to call for wholesale changes at Ofsted in a forthcoming report. It will say that the current inspection regime places disproportionate pressure on teachers, while its judgments are too inconsistent.

The two inquiries reflect growing frustration within the Department for Education (DfE) over complaints from heads and teachers about Ofsted reports that appear to contradict the thrust of government policy. Some protest that inspectors have criticised teachers for talking for too long in lessons.

Others say inspection teams have demanded more group work, independent learning and interaction among children, which critics associate with the “child-led” philosophy of education that Mr Gove is trying to stamp out.

The article goes on to describe the two think tanks as right-wing allies of the secretary of state, and distinguishes between the chief inspector (who, of course, does deny wanting a particular style of teaching) and the many inspectors who do enforce a particular style of teaching.

The debate which followed on from this (which I will have to comment on before too long, if I can), emphasised the personalities involved and at times seemed to assume that the issues around OFSTED were not actually the ones mentioned in the article. But, as any reader of this blog knows, there is a real issue here. OFSTED inspectors do act as if they have a particular ideological agenda. They do seem to ignore the direction of their own leadership, let alone the agenda of any politician. It is not a surprise that these think tanks are interested. There are people from both of them who follow me on Twitter. Civitas have been critical of OFSTED in the past (here and here) and has a history of involvement in recent education debates from a position directly opposed to that they attribute to OFSTED. Policy Exchange has quite a high profile on education too, with frequent events and publications on educational issues. It is hardly shocking that they would know what the score is, or that they would be critical of OFSTED.

However, I would hope that this has raised the issue of how OFSTED behave and will keep it in the public eye. I also hope that teachers can play a part in this debate. To that end, it is probably worth mentioning a couple of things.

1) Policy Exchange’s consultation on OFSTED is open until Monday, asking “teachers, heads, inspectors or others” about their experiences of OFSTED. It would be great if some of the people who tell me things about their experiences could also tell them.

2) If anyone is willing to speak to a journalist about experiences of OFSTED criticising them personally (or their school) for too much teacher talk and not enough independent learning, then please let me know so I can put you in touch with one who is interested.

This is likely to be an ongoing debate in both politics and the media, and it would be great if it can be informed as much as possible by the experience of teachers, rather than the usual succession of clueless talking heads who dominate so much of the public debate about education.

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Can OFSTED stop publishing ridiculous reports, even if they try?

January 27, 2014

I’m struggling to keep up with developments regarding OFSTED, particularly as they’ve been in the news recently (I’ll try to comment on that tomorrow or Wednesday) but I am not going to miss the opportunity to write a post about the letter to inspectors Sir Michael Wilshaw sent out last week. I’m not the first blogger to present the text of this letter (it was on this blog on Saturday and an extract was available here  earlier in the week) but I can’t resist repeating it, and commenting. I will include the full text, with some additional observations throughout and further comments at the end.

Over the last 18 months, I have emphasised in a number of speeches that Ofsted is not prescriptive about the way that teaching is delivered and does not recommend a suite of preferred teaching styles. Inspectors should only be concerned with the impact that teaching has on children’s learning, progress and outcomes. Our new guidance on the inspection of teaching in schools reinforces this. I quote:

‘Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Moreover, they must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance. 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 necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual. 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.’

Nevertheless, 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’

‘Insufficient time was given to collaborative learning’

‘Students are not given sufficient opportunity to support their classmates in their learning’

‘Pupils are not sufficiently engaged in their own learning’

‘Teaching requires improvement because pupils do not get enough opportunities to work alone or in groups’

‘Weak teaching is characterised by teachers talking too much.’

I think what’s most gratifying about reading these very familiar sounding phrases is that it suggests that, finally, the chief inspector is doing what I’ve been doing for almost a year now and actually reading the reports his organisation puts out. This would also explain why so many reports recently had been changed or held up, with these sorts of phrases being removed. Of course, this leaves the question of what he was doing up until this point. He seemed content to change the various documentation which tells inspectors what to do, and then just leave it at that when it is ignored. There is still no sign of any specified sanction or consequence for any inspector who ignores the advice, but at least they now know he’s watching them.

It is quite acceptable for a teacher to talk a lot as long as the children are attentive, interested, learning and making progress. If not, it is quite legitimate for inspectors to say that poor planning and lesson structure meant that children lost focus and learnt very little.

There is so much more that could be said about teaching without infringing the professional judgement of teachers to decide the most appropriate style of teaching to get the best out of their students. For example:

Do lessons start promptly?

Are children focused and attentive because the teaching is stimulating?

Is the pace of the lesson good because the teacher is proactive and dynamic in the classroom?

Is homework regularly given?

Is literacy a key component of lessons across the curriculum?

Do teachers use display and technology to support teaching?

Are low expectations resulting in worksheets being used rather than textbooks?

Are the most able children provided with work which stretches them and allows them to fulfil their true potential?

Are children expected to take books home to do their homework and return them the following day?

Does marking give a clear indication of what the children have to do to improve and are clear targets being set?

Is the structure of the lesson promoting good learning and are children given sufficient time to practise and reinforce what is being taught?

Do teachers have sufficient expertise to be able to impart to students the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed?

Does the school have a robust professional development programme which is improving the quality of teaching by disseminating good practice across the school or college?

Are teaching assistants supporting teaching effectively or are they simply ‘floating about’?

These are some remarkable recommendations. Some seem quite random, or possibly out of date. While I can imagine that there was once a time when worksheets were seen as less demanding than textbooks, I’m not sure that can really be claimed these days. A lot of my worksheets are photocopies from old textbooks, used because the newer textbooks are too dumbed down. @cazzypot has written a critique of these suggestions on her blog. I’m, perhaps, more sympathetic to these than she is, but only with the proviso that they are used to gauge whole school expectations not assess individual lessons. Too many of them are dependent on the culture of the whole school to be a fair way to judge individuals.

In summary, 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.

In saying all this, I recognise that a report-writing orthodoxy has grown up over the years which owes as much to the formulaic approach of the national strategies as to any guidance that Ofsted has given inspectors. We must continue to break free of this and encourage inspectors to use their freedom to report in language that has meaning and relevance to the institutions we inspect and the parents and students who read our reports.

Only by doing this can we hope to use inspection to raise standards.

It is an interesting point about the national strategies. It would indicate that some of his inspectors reflect a culture that involves an orthodoxy older and more established than Sir Michael’s involvement in OFSTED. As a comment on Twitter pointed out (when Mark McCourt made similar observations), OFSTED are “like the Dementors who act for but are not under [the] control of the Ministry of Magic”.

However, the phrase “please, please, please” is also revealing. How much influence does he have to change anything? There is new guidance. There is a precedent for reviewing, editing or delaying reports that don’t comply. There is a begging letter. Will inspectors comply? Well, as I understand it, this letter was published on the 22nd. That same day the report for King Solomon High school was published. It told us:

In the best lessons… Students respond well to the chance to think things out for themselves and choose the work they do. In a mathematics lesson, students who had already grasped the concepts being taught were then tasked to lead the learning of others. They responded well to the challenge and others say they benefited from the support they received from their peers…

…The best behaviour in lessons results from high quality teaching where there are plenty of opportunities for students to find out things for themselves in a supportive, but challenging, environment. This does not happen often enough and results in some students not taking an active role in their own learning.

Well, that was on the day of the letter. How about since? This is from the report from Forest Gate Community school published on Friday, for an inspection in the final week before the holidays. This is one of the two most recent reports from secondary schools. Published after the letter; after reports had been withdrawn and rewritten; after all this fuss and over a month since the new guidance, quoted above by Sir Michael Wilshaw, warned against condemning passivity or demanding independent learning.

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Often, there are limited opportunities for students to be actively involved in lessons, leading, on occasion, to poor behaviour…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Improve the quality of teaching … by ensuring that all teachers: plan lessons which provide opportunities for students to become more independent and take responsibility for helping themselves to improve… Improve behaviour in all lessons by allowing students to be more actively involved in tasks so that they retain their interest and do not disengage or become restless…

The quality of teaching requires improvement… Although teachers use a range of different strategies to help students to understand and broaden their knowledge and skills, in some lessons, work is over directed by the teacher and there are few opportunities for students to find things out for themselves. In these lessons, students sometimes become passive or restless and disengage from the lesson. Opportunities are missed in allowing them the independence to take more responsibility to drive their learning forwards or be more actively involved.

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Arnold Hill Academy Responds to the OFSTED Shambles

January 26, 2014

I don’t know whether to take this to indicate that OFSTED are willing to revise the judgements, rather than just the wording, from their December 2013 inspections (something I have argued should be happening) or simply as an indicator that OFSTED is now in such a state that schools think it’s worth pre-emptively dismissing what they say. Nor do I know anything about this school (and while I’m happy to hear anecdotally what it’s like by email, I’m not planning to allow a discussion of that in the comments on this post).

However, this statement appears on the website of Arnold Hill Academy and the tone strikes me as the only sane way for schools to respond to what’s going on. It also raises questions about just what OFSTED are up to at the moment. (Thanks to @KateKelly20 for pointing this out to me.)

Ofsted admit their own inspection process is flawed!

Staff and Governors at Arnold Hill Academy were surprised recently when the Ofsted Regional Director for the East Midlands, Louise Soden, admitted in a letter to the Principal that the Ofsted inspection of the Academy before Christmas had been “flawed”.

This expression of concern about the quality and practice of Ofsted’s inspection of Arnold Hill Academy has come at a time when the watchdog has come under wide criticism for changing a number of schools’ inspection reports because they contradicted their own official guidance. Ofsted admitted recently to the Times Educational Supplement (TES) that “…the reports of all other inspections carried out before Christmas [have] also been put on hold to allow further checks for errors”

There then follows a link, which doesn’t seem to be working, which is presumably intended to be for this article.

Arnold Hill Academy had a subject-based inspection in July 2012 and was judged by Ofsted to have ‘Outstanding’ achievement, curriculum, leadership and management. A previous Ofsted inspection in September 2010 judged Arnold Hill to be a ‘Good’ school.

Ofsted inspected Arnold Hill Academy on 5th and 6th December 2013 and were expected to have published their report within 15 working days of this inspection. However, Ofsted’s decision to now delay publication of their report amidst concerns over the quality of their own judgements and practices is causing unnecessary anxiety amongst pupils, staff and the wider community.

Having deemed the initial Ofsted inspection as “flawed” a follow up visit was made to the school on Monday 13th January and the Academy are currently awaiting written feedback following that visit. The Chair of Governors, Nigel Bradley, said “We have always valued Ofsted as an agent of change however we are concerned that Ofsted now regard their own practice as ‘flawed’. The initial inspection in December provided what we felt was an accurate reflection of where the Academy’s strengths and weaknesses lie.”

On Thursday 16th January Arnold Hill Academy submitted a detailed complaint to Ofsted regarding their concerns around the impact of Ofsted’s indecision, conduct and inconsistency on the school community. Ofsted have acknowledged receipt of this complaint but not yet responded to the Academy other than stating merely that they will “aim to send a response….no later than 3rd March 2014”.

Robin Fugill, Principal at Arnold Hill Academy said “We recognise that Ofsted’s delays may cause staff, pupils and parents anxiety so we will ensure they are kept up to date with developments on a regular basis”.

I think there is an issue here in that a lot of the consequences of OFSTED inspections stem from the reaction of the governors and local community to an inspection report. If it is now widely known that the inspection system is a shambles, then that reaction may be very different.

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Two More Edited OFSTED Reports

January 25, 2014

In my last post, I went through the OFSTED reports that I had commented on here to see if they had been edited after being published. However, I failed to comment on the first report I had discovered to be altered, that of John Wilmott School. I also missed changes to the report of another school, Bushey Academy, as I (carelessly) hadn’t noticed any problems with the original. Apologies, for the omissions, all I can say is, I was very busy last week and 5 am blogging is not always going to be perfect. I will now look at the changes to those reports here.

John Willmott School

The words “how well they are doing or” have been removed from:

When teachers mark work, they do not always tell students how well they are doing or how to improve their work, or make sure that they follow any guidance given.

The following section (a favourite of mine) has been removed:

Sometimes teachers give students too much information in lessons and do not encourage them enough to learn independently.

The recommendation that the school “provide regular opportunities for students to learn independently” has been removed.

The following section has been removed:

Teachers sometimes direct students’ learning too much, preventing students from working independently. This limits students’ chances to discuss ideas with each other and to come up with their own ways of solving problems.

In the section about the sixth form, the complaint that “work does not offer enough opportunities for students to work independently” is now a complaint that “work does not offer enough opportunities for students to do their own research”.

The following phrase has been removed:

In the best lessons they encourage independent writing…

 

The Bushey Academy

The sentence:

Teaching is good because teachers have high expectations and plan lessons carefully.

has been changed to:

Teaching is good because teachers have high expectations and plan work carefully for the needs and abilities of different groups of students.

The word “Some” has been added to the beginning of the following:

Students do not always heed the advice their teachers give about how to improve their work

The recommendation that the school:

Improve the quality of teaching by ensuring consistent high-quality marking across all subjects that involves students in a dialogue with their teachers about how they are improving their work.

is now a recommendation that the school:

Improve the quality of teaching
– by ensuring consistent high-quality marking across all subjects
– by ensuring that students take account of the guidance they are given in order to improve their work .

This might reflect a realisation that schools have become overly pre-occupied with particular styles of marking.

Students develop in confidence through frequent opportunities to work collaboratively, either by checking and advising each other’s learning, or as part of a team.

has been replaced with:

Students develop in confidence by checking and advising on each other’s work.

The following section:

Students do not readily share their perceptions of what they find challenging or difficult with their teachers because, in a small minority of lessons, students are too passive in their learning.

has been replaced with:

Students do not readily share their perceptions of what they find challenging or difficult with their teachers. In a small minority of lessons, teachers do not always expect them to join in with discussions or answer questions.

 

Some of these changes bring new things to light – the evaluation of marking is apparently under some consideration – however, this is the same story as before. No judgements change even where the reasons given have been removed, and some of the most ideologically charged statements have been rephrased to avoid particular words but retain the same basic content. There is no change in approach, nor ideology, only a desire to express it less openly.

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Blogs for the Week Ending 25th January 2014

January 25, 2014
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What does “trust teachers” actually mean?

January 25, 2014

This should be required reading for politicians talking about education policy.

mylifeasacynicalteacher

I see politicians and OFSTED often being implored to trust teachers but I’m not sure what people mean by this.

The government spend an awful lot of money on education so  the existence of some sort of monitoring or inspection regime is inevitable and reasonable. The problem is that saying “trust teachers” sometimes makes us sound to people outside teaching like we object to being inspected/observed on general principle.

Personally I think that OFSTED in its current form is not only pointless it is harmful to good teaching. I think it should be radically reformed but there definitely needs to be some sort of inspection regime and that body must have teeth. There are failing schools out there and any body inspecting schools must have the power to do something about it. The problem is that OFSTED does nothing to support struggling schools. It’s all stick.

I get the feeling…

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