OFSTED Go Mad In Coventry

March 3, 2014

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.


  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. One possible reason for OFSTED inspectors not following Sir Michael Wilshaw’s guidelines is that he is clearly saying that if students are learning well, then the teaching must be good.
    However as we all know, *accurately* assessing how well students are learning takes more than just a show of mini whiteboards. It takes time, regular assessment, and knowing the students. I doubt that can be done to any degree of satisfaction by a stranger in 20 mins. So the default position has been, and sadly from your posts seems to continue to be, that if teaching isn’t done in ways X, Y and Z then “learning is not taking place and students aren’t making progress, and the solution would be to use methods X, Y and Z.”

  3. Seems to me there is a significant difference between
    “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.”
    Never make a judgement overall “that students are too passive and lack and self-sufficiency”. It’s a judgement about balance not a license for one extreme.
    From the extracts its impossible to tell but perhaps the judgement of the team was that passivity and dependency was evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding. If so it is not contrary to the Wilshaw directive.

    • If something is identified as a habit inspectors need to break then letting them continue to do it whenever we can imagine an excuse for doing so, is not going to bring about change. More importantly, Wilshaw has been clear on this. Comments of this sort should only be made where “there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time”, something which is not provided here. Passivity should only be criticised where “it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding”. It is not enough to come up with vague justifications for expressing the same old opinions. The phrase “Teaching will improve if more time is given to independent learning”, which contains a justification, was, nevertheless, identified as unacceptable. Inspectors are meant to avoid giving the impression they have a preferred teaching style. They have clearly failed to keep to that.

      • Having taken part in many inspections albeit 15 years ago, it was pretty rare to find adverse comments about a secondary school dept that got the best exam results in the school. It tends to be those that are not doing so well that attract comments as to why? Instead of saying the teacher was boring the backside off the kids, there will be more “politically correct” versions about engagement and passivity. So maybe inspectors should be much more direct. After all, there is plenty of performance analysis these days to compare like with like. How well children perform with different teachers in secondary is not that difficult so maybe we should stop pussyfooting around and just demand objective stats analysis to compare teachers using appropriate adjectives. Maybe be careful what you wish for ;-)

        • I keep meaning to write about how many reports seem to have contradictory data and judgements, and hopefully I will get round to it before too long, but I will say there are a lot of examples where results don’t match comments, and it is worth remembering that Ofsted no longer evaluate individual departments.

          As for why they use phrases like “engagement” and “passivity”, it is not that saying teaching was boring would be politically incorrect, it is that it would be a dead give-away that they were looking for what they think students, particularly working class students, will be entertained by, rather than what they will learn from.

          • It will be a useful thing to identify inconsistencies. One of the jobs of the registered inspector used to be to check that all the comments on lesson observation forms matched the grades. This aid to quality assurance is one reason for having grades, removing the grades in that scenario would have the effect of increasing inconsistencies. You have your view of things. All I’m saying is that from direct experience things are not always what they appear on the surface. If I go back to my own experience as a pupil, forty-odd years ago, the teachers I learnt best from were entertaining and engaging – didn’t mean they were undemanding. Don’t think it was anything to do with class – it was a direct grant grammar school with a real mixture – more to do with motivation and making it interesting to learn. After all why would enjoyment be mutually exclusive to learning? Motivation is in my view the most important factor. If that is secure people over-achieve in pretty well all aspects of life. Why would institutionalised learning be different? The problem with people with no experience of the benefit of education is motivating them to engage with something they think is largely irrelevant to them.

  4. Having read the Blue Coat report it seems that – reading between the lines – there’s more to it than simple Ofsted ineptitude. Yes they’ve been screwed over but it seems like Ofsted had issues specifically regarding the school’s use of Pupil Premium money.
    For example “An external review of the school’s use of pupil premium should be undertaken…” and “The governing body has not made sure that the school has received good value for money in its use of the additional pupil premium funding.”
    I may be reading between the lines here but it seems that Ofsted were concerned with the accounts compared to teaching and learning and so on. Generic comments like “Work is sometimes too easy and too hard” and its criticism of marking could be applied at any school. It seems like the real criticism is of the leadership who have not ensured that PP money has been spent well.
    Or am I reading too much into it?

  5. Look at the report for Poynton High School in Cheshire, cracking results, outstanding school but penalised for small number of FSM children’s lack of progress.

    • Too right. My view is that if a few disadvantaged kiddies have to fall by the wayside in order that the advantaged can go to Oxbridge then that is a price worth paying.
      It’s a bit like the orthopaedic surgeon who is brilliant at ingrowing toenails but has a few patents die due to his carelessness with the scalpel. Why suggest that he/she should improve if overall lots of his/her patients are happy.
      The world is going mad.

      • I think you have misunderstood.

        • Ah, please explain my misunderstanding, briefly if possible. I have seen the report, previous reports and the letter from the head and I was thinking that the issues were very straightforward.
          Clearly not.
          The Ofsted report seems clear, concise and straightforward. The letter is well written, is very easy to read and puts a positive slant everywhere it possibly can.
          This was the comment I was responding to.
          “Look at the report for Poynton High School in Cheshire, cracking results, outstanding school but penalised for small number of FSM children’s lack of progress.”
          It seems to suggest that it is unreasonable for the school to be penalised because a small number of students did not make adequate progress. Although this misrepresents the report and even the letter I feel, It does not say penalised “only for small number……”
          If you can explain where I misunderstand I will try not to make the same mistake next time.

          • Sorry, my mistake. I couldn’t see what you’d replied to on my phone and I thought that was a comment on my post.

  6. For ref. These are the two ‘republished’ reports.
    Blue Coat Church of England School and Music College
    Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School and Language College

  7. It would be nice if the head teacher could tell the difference between one criterion and several criteria. So much for English teaching…

  8. Reblogged this on NUT in SPTA and commented:
    Another Ofsted Blizt

  9. […] may also recall that here I described a school whch had been marked down, despite good results, apparently for an […]

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