Bizarre Developments and Unfair Judgements on the OFSTED WebsiteJanuary 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.
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.
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.