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…

View original post 409 more words

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More OFSTED Reports Edited After Publication

January 24, 2014

You may recall a post from a week ago listing various OFSTED reports from the previous two weeks which violated the latest guidance (not to mention everything OFSTED have been saying for the last 18 months and common sense). Some of these have now been revised.

I have found the following changes.

De Warenne Academy 

Improvement is required in students’ behaviour as their attitudes and application to work are not consistently good enough across all subjects and year groups to make a positive contribution to their learning.

has been changed to:

Improvement is required in students’ behaviour as their attitudes and application to work are not consistently good enough across all subjects and year groups.

 

Teachers do not always ensure that students are challenged more to think for themselves and work or study independently to increase their rate of learning.

has been changed to:

Teachers do not always ensure that students are challenged to think and solve problems for themselves in order to increase their rate of learning.

The recommendation of:

a particular focus on how the best teaching pushes students to think for themselves and work more independently

has been changed to:

a particular focus on ensuring students think for themselves and solve problems

 

In lessons that require improvement, students are less willing to work hard to achieve their learning targets, preferring instead to expect a lot of ‘scaffolding’ or significant help from teaching and support staff.

has been changed to:

In lessons that require improvement, students are less willing to work hard to achieve their learning targets, preferring instead to expect significant help from teaching and support staff.

The following section has been removed:

In their keenness to guide students and remind them of elements that need to be included in their work to reach higher grades, teachers sometimes over-direct the lesson. This reduces the time available for students to work collaboratively and independently at thinking and solving problems for themselves. It also affects the rate at which some students can demonstrate their understanding through completion of tasks in their workbooks.

However, later on there appears this apparent replacement:

Not all students have enough opportunities to think and solve problems for themselves. This affects the rate at which some students can demonstrate their understanding.

Sections about the “better” lessons are now only about “some lessons” and in these lessons students who were “motivated to take more responsibility for their own learning” are now “motivated to get on with their learning”

A reference to the teacher’s “role as a facilitator” has also been removed and “independent study skills” are now just “study skills”.

 

The International School (Birmingham)

Teachers do not all draw on a variety of approaches to actively engage students or require them to work independently.

has been changed to:

Teachers do not all draw on a variety of approaches to actively engage students.

The recommendation that:

 …students are required more often to work independently of the teacher for parts of lessons.

has been changed to a recommendation that:

students are encouraged more often to work without direct help from the teacher for parts of lessons.

 

Too few lessons have opportunities for students to work independently of the teacher for periods of time, so that they are able to take responsibility for their own learning rather than relying too much on teachers for explanations and directions.

has been replaced with:

Few lessons include opportunities for students to work without direct help from the teacher for periods of time, so they do not develop the ability to take responsibility for their own learning rather than relying too much on teachers for explanations and directions.

 

…there are few examples of students responding to marking and verbal advice

is now

…students rarely use the advice given in the marking and verbal feedback to improve their
work.

 

Leighton Middle School

The following section has been removed:

Pupils are not offered enough opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning or to develop as independent learners

along with the advice to improve teaching by:

…encouraging pupils to become more independent and take greater responsibility for their own
learning.

and also:

However there are not sufficient opportunities for the development of independent learning built into all lessons or subjects.

A phrase about teachers who were “quick to offer guidance and advice that will skilfully correct misconceptions or adjust errors so that learning is positive and rewarding” has lost the “so that learning is positive and rewarding” part.

The following has been added:

Where marking gives pupils advice, teachers do not always check that pupils act on it.

A section about sports funding has been developed to mention:

More opportunities for competitive games, swimming, athletics and extra coaching for the most able are all increasing the pupils’ health and well-being.

 

Perryfields High School Specialist Maths and Computing College

In less effective lessons, students were not given enough opportunity to work independently and develop their own ideas. This was because teachers talked too much and too little time was made available for students to work on planned activities.

has been changed to

In less effective lessons, students were not given enough opportunity to work without adult help on developing their own ideas. This was because teachers allowed too little time for students to work on planned activities.

 

In the best lessons, students had opportunities to work in a range of different ways, including independently, and made good progress both in the lesson and over time.

has been changed to:

In the best lessons, students had opportunities to work in a range of different ways, including exploring their own ideas, and made good progress.

 

In all lessons there was a positive environment for learning. This is particularly the case where students are highly engaged and find lessons interesting because they have well-planned opportunities for independent working.

has been changed to:

In all lessons there was a positive environment for learning. This is particularly the case where
students are highly engaged and find lessons interesting because they have well-planned
opportunities for exploring their own ideas to extend their work.

 

Whitcliffe Mount – Specialist Business and Enterprise College

In some lessons, there are too few opportunities for students to develop their learning skills through paired or group work.

has been replaced with:

In some lessons, there are too few opportunities for students to actively participate in their own learning.

 

In a small minority of lessons, teachers spend too much time explaining what is required and pace slows, so that students get less opportunity to complete work independently, and as a result, make less progress.

has been replaced with:

In a small minority of lessons, teachers spend too much time explaining unnecessarily what is required and pace slows, so that students get less opportunity to complete their work and, as a result, make less progress.

The following phrase has been removed:

The use of problem solving and independent research so that students take more responsibility for their own learning is not a consistent feature of all lessons.

 

I actually like some of the changes regarding marking, but the key changes are that a few of the phrases about independent learning and teaching styles have been removed, without any changes in the resulting judgements. Often, they have deliberately minimised the changes, removing any reference to being “independent” but replacing it with another euphemism for the same thing (i.e. less teaching). The impression this gives is that OFSTED are prepared to conceal the extent to which they judge schools based on an ideological belief in minimal guidance from teachers, but they aren’t actually prepared to change that practice or even alter judgements based on it. If this is the evidence available, OFSTED have not changed, but they are learning to hide their ideological preferences slightly more. Many schools will still want to play it safe by discouraging traditional teaching.

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Ten Questions OFSTED Need to Answer

January 21, 2014

As you may recall, I blogged here about how OFSTED had altered the comments, but not the grades, on a couple of inspection reports (and possibly done something similar to another 4 reports) and how they seemed to have stopped publishing new reports. This was after I had blogged (here) about how various reports, including the two altered ones, had contradicted the latest guidance. Although I could not be sure exactly what had happened, and I even had one HMI on Twitter suggest that the apparent absence of reports might be down to problems with the search engine or a result of the Christmas holiday, the details have now been confirmed in a report on the TES website.

…it has emerged that six school inspection reports published this month were retrospectively amended after their release, because they did not comply with Ofsted’s guidance.

The publication of the reports of all other inspections carried out before Christmas has also been put on hold to allow further checks for other errors, Ofsted told TES.

The report goes on to say:

An Ofsted spokesman told TES that it had made several minor changes to six reports, but no overall grades were affected. It had delayed publishing the reports of all other schools inspected before Christmas for “final quality assurance checks to confirm [inspectors] were following the latest published guidance, especially around teaching”.

“This exercise is now complete and the reports are expectedto [sic] appear on the website from early tomorrow onwards,” he added.

This raises some pretty serious questions. If anyone can find out the answers to the following, I’d be very interested.

1) Which are the 4 reports that have been altered that I haven’t identified, and what has been changed?

2) How were the 6 edited reports identified? We know that there were plenty or other reports that broke the guidance (I originally identified 5 such report but only 2 have been changed, and when I looked the following week a majority of the reports I found broke the guidance).

3) Is it a coincidence that the 2 reports that we know to have been altered, were ones where it looked as if the opinions about teaching style (which shouldn’t have been expressed) could have affected some of the grades given in the report, or even the overall grade?

4) If it is accepted that the reports were flawed, why are the grades still allowed to stand? It hardly seems fair to say the justifications for the grades were wrong but the grades were correct.

5) For those reports that have been held up for further checking, were the grades reviewed or only the wording?

6) Has anyone apologised to individual teachers or groups of teachers, who would have been criticised by inspectors for failing to comply with the approved teaching style? People’s careers will have been affected by the criticisms made during feedback and in the reports.

7) Is anyone involved in this colossal screw-up being disciplined for their part in this? I realise that the inspections were carried out before the latest guidance was issued, but the OFSTED handbook has said there was no preferred teaching style for well over a year now.

8) Do procedures even exist for dealing with inspection teams who judge according to the wrong criteria, particularly those employed by private companies paid to carry out inspections? There seems to be little accountability here for inspectors. At times it seems like the only people scrutinising OFSTED are bloggers.

9) Why has OFSTED recently published subject specific guidance which still suggests judging lessons (in subject surveys) on the basis of teaching style?

10) Is OFSTED of the view that the only issue here is one of “wording” and not one of flawed and unfair judgements? This is a critical question if inspectors are to be prevented from continuing to judge on the basis of teaching style and simply not mention in reports that they have done so.

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Bizarre Developments and Unfair Judgements on the OFSTED Website

January 19, 2014

I wrote a blogpost the other day about all the ridiculous things OFSTED had been saying in inspection reports in the last couple of weeks which utterly contradicted the most recent guidance for inspectors.

My favourite extracts were:

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Sometimes teachers give students too much information in lessons and do not encourage them enough to learn independently.

and

What does the school need to do to improve further?  Improve the quality of teaching and learning so that all is at least good and more is outstanding by …making sure that students have more opportunities for paired and group work to help them to develop independent learning skills…

These two spell out the ideology of OFSTED so clearly, and are not just out of sync with the most recent guidance from the Christmas holiday, but actually show that the orthodoxy from before Michael Wilshaw was appointed is as strong as ever, despite countless  letters, speeches, exhortations and revisions of the documentation. If you wanted to quickly demonstrate that inspectors on the ground are not remotely influenced by anything Wilshaw says or does, these two really show it. It’s no wonder so many schools are still obsessed with group work and minimising teacher instruction. If they get those particular inspectors, it could pay off.

However, despite carefully checking all the dates so as to avoid an overlap with my previous post on the same theme I completely missed something else about the dates. They stopped last weekend, with a single report published Saturday and then apparently nothing. A search of the site still finds no reports more recent than that, although as I’ll explain below, this isn’t strictly true.

(Update 19/1/2014: By altering the search parameters a bit, I have now found 11 reports. 1 secondary, but monitoring only, 10 primary. I suppose this could be a product of a really poor search engine and a post-Christmas lull, but this still seems low, and nobody’s reported having this trouble finding reports before, so who knows. I suppose it allows for more explanations, like inspectors stopping to be trained or something similar, than I gave credit to below.)

Now the obvious explanation for this hiatus is the problem with reports contradicting guidance. Rumours had reached me that there was concern (and action) at the top levels of OFSTED about this issue. As I reported here, a couple of the most contentious reports, those from the Durand Academy and John Ruskin School in Cumbria, where the bias over teaching style might actually have affected the overall grade had vanished. Furthermore, the journalist and activist Fiona Millar had reported here that:

[OFSTED] stress that the the report will be re-published in the very near future and that the Durand Ofsted was one of six removed from the Ofsted site due to concerns about “poor wording” in references to teaching style, in the light of recent Ofsted guidance on teaching and learning. This poor wording should have been picked up in the pre-publication period apparently, but wasn’t.

My best efforts haven’t located the other 4 reports. But this would indicate the the rumours I mentioned before were correct. However, as I said in an update to my blogpost about missing reports, this did “imply that only the wording, not the resulting judgement, is in need of review”. This has since been confirmed. Although they don’t show up on the search, the two missing reports have reappeared with a later publication date and some changes to the text, but none to the judgements.

Janet Downs indicates the changes to the Durand report in a comment on the Fiona Millar article [emphasis mine]:

The updated report contains some changes. For example:

1 “Pupils, particularly the youngest children and the more able, are not encouraged enough to work independently” has been changed to:

“…pupils, particularly the youngest children and the most above, are not always provided with enough challenging work.”

2 “…ensuring all pupils have clear next steps in marking and other feedback to help them in their learning, and giving them opportunities to respond to these comments giving pupils more opportunities to work on their own and to deepen their knowledge through activities that promote discussion, collaboration and challenge” is now:

“…ensuring that all marking shows pupils exactly what they need to do to improve their work.”

Some sections were removed including:

1 Pupils are not consistently given regular opportunities to reflect and act upon teachers’ feedback linked to their current levels of achievement.”

2 Pupils say that they enjoy school and they talk about their favourite lessons, for example, personal, health and social education (PHSE). They like lessons where they are actively involved. Older pupils told inspectors, ‘talking together increases our knowledge, the best learning is when we have lots of discussion and interaction.’ Lessons seen across the academy did not always encourage and promote this independence or collaborative learning.

3 Pupils know that they attend school to do their best. They are keen to achieve well and they show good attitudes to learning and to one another.

Quite why this editing was not done in the first instance and before publication is unclear.

– See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/01/the-mysterious-case-of-the-vanishing-ofsted-report/#comment-105140

While Janet might not know the reason for the changes, I have highlighted all the parts of the text which I complained about in my blogpost from two weeks ago.

As for the John Ruskin School, I have found the following changes (ignoring some improvements in punctuation) :

The section explaining why the school is not good has lost all but the first sentence of this:

  • Over time, teaching has not ensured that students made good or better progress. For example, students have not always been required to find things out for themselves and thus take more responsibility for their own learning.
  • On occasions, students are not given sufficient opportunities to support their classmates in their learning.

The section explaining what classroom practices should be embedded to improve the school further has lost:

  •  developing students’ independent learning skills so that they can take more responsibility for their own progress 
  • ensuring students are given even more opportunities to support one another in the classroom and act as extra resources for the learning of their classmates

The section on the quality of teaching has lost most of this:

Relationships between students and between students and the adults who work with them are a major strength. In the best lessons, for example a Year 8 ICT lesson in which teaching was judged outstanding, students are required to think for themselves and are also encouraged to support their classmates when they are finding things difficult. When this happens, students are proud of what they can do and are often surprised at how much they can achieve. On occasions, however, students’ independent learning skills are not fully developed and they are not expected to take sufficient responsibility for their own progress, nor are they encouraged to support their peers in their learning.

Although the resulting text still includes the following fragments elsewhere in the new text:

In a Year 8 ICT lesson, in which teaching and learning was judged to be outstanding, students showed that they were able to think for themselves…

Relationships between students and between students and the adults who work with them are a major strength.

Again I have highlighted the parts I complained about. So, it would appear that the reports have been altered by somebody who either reads my blog, or thinks roughly the same way I do about this sort of comment. However, I am not satisfied. The headline grades for the 2 schools have remained unchanged. Now, of course, it could be that the grades weren’t reliant on the evidence in the deleted sections. But there are two points in particular that now seem ridiculous, both of which may have affected the overall grade of the respective schools.

Firstly, the description of the teaching and learning at John Ruskin School now reads:

The quality of teaching requires improvement

  • Teaching requires improvement because it has not been good enough over time to ensure that students made good or better progress in their studies. However, the quality of teaching is now better than at the time of the previous inspection. Indeed, during the inspection, no inadequate teaching was observed and a majority of good and outstanding teaching was seen in both key stages and in a range of subjects.
  • All groups of students achieve well, or even better, when the challenge they receive in the classroom is closely matched to their abilities, to the progress they have already made and to the levels of attainment they have already reached. In a Year 9 French lesson, for example, excellent planning and teaching enabled students to work at their own pace and those with average levels of prior attainment were enabled to make the same outstanding progress as all other groups. In a Year 8 ICT lesson, in which teaching and learning was judged to be outstanding, students showed that they were able to think for themselves. However, in a minority of lessons, challenge comprises a ‘one size fits all’ approach and students of broadly average ability do not do as well as they could as a result.
  •  Marking is good and is now more regular and consistent than at the time of the previous inspection. Students receive accurate and often detailed advice on how they can improve their work.
  • Relationships between students and between students and the adults who work with them are a major strength.
  • The accelerated reading programme has a positive impact on students, particularly boys’ motivation to want to learn, and it also supports students’ learning in subjects other than English. It is, however, not yet fully implemented across Key Stage 3, to give boys that extra impetus to make the progress they should.

Except for the first line, does this sound like a “Requires Improvement” description to you? While the 2012 results weren’t great for the school, they appear to have improved in 2013 and you will easily find schools with worse results getting graded as good by OFSTED. It may well have been the removed passages that made the difference, which in turn may well have affected the overall grade.

As for Durand Academy, the text for behaviour and safety now reads:

The behaviour and safety of pupils are good

  • Pupils are respectful and polite. They move around the building exceptionally well; the organisation of large numbers of pupils is efficient. Pupils and teachers are well prepared for learning at the start of every lesson.
  • Almost all pupils have very positive attitudes to school. They say that they enjoy school. They enjoy their work and they are keen to do well. All pupils respond quickly to staff instructions; when a small minority of pupils find learning and behaviour difficult, adults are adept at calmly resolving the situation. High expectations of behaviour are consistently applied by all adults. This is a strength considering the large number of new staff every year.
  • The new inclusion rooms support vulnerable pupils who find academy expectations challenging. The provision is well managed, and the teaching assistants are patient and calm with each pupil.
  • Pupils told inspectors that they feel safe in the academy. They understand the various forms that bullying can take. They say that there is some bullying and name-calling but they reported confidently that it is dealt with by adults. A small minority of staff and parents commented on poor behaviour but most feedback during the inspection was positive. Parents expressed strong support for the academy’s consistent expectations for uniform, homework and pupils’ conduct.
  • The academy has only recently standardised the system for recording exclusions. Previously, the policy allowed for pupils to be sent home informally which was against statutory guidance; this is no longer the case. Current information shows that a small number of pupils have been excluded this term for aggressive and non-compliant behaviour. These incidents are recorded correctly.
  • Attendance is average. Academy systems to manage attendance data by pupil groups are under developed. Hand-completed paper registers are still used; a computerised system introduced in September 2013 is too new for academy leaders to analyse attendance trends with accuracy.
  • Care and support for the more vulnerable pupils are highly effective, and there are very strong partnerships with a range of external agencies.

Does this sound only good? It sounds exceptional to me. There isn’t much negative in the teaching and learning section either. Certainly, staff and leaders at Academy Durand will have every reason to wonder why they are no longer outstanding in any respect, and whether the now removed parts of the report actually determined their grades.

We now have a situation where OFSTED are trying to look as if they have changed. They are doing their best to brush the evidence of arbitrary and ideologically motivated inspections under the carpet. However, the more entrenched problem, of inspectors who still believe the old values were the right values, and the old expectations were the right expectations, clearly has not gone away. Until we start hearing of inspectors being sacked for ignoring the guidance and the handbook, schools will continue to expect the same underlying attitudes from inspectors on the ground, even if somebody does take a blue pencil to the reports after the first draft. I would suggest schools and teachers do everything in their power to use F.O.I. to get every scrap of information about their judgements, just to make sure the real reason for a disappointing judgement hasn’t been edited out of their report.

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