OFSTED CultureApril 12, 2014
I can’t resist passing on a few bits and pieces about the effect OFSTED has on schools. I have done a little editing, here and there for the sake of clarity and anonymity, but made no significant changes.
The first is from a teacher’s comment on my last blogpost.
We’ve had OFSTED in twice this year, and the DfE. Additionally, we have an adviser appointed by the academy chain who is also a lead inspector and receives a ludicrous amount of money in order to try to impose “what OFSTED want to see”. He’s quite open about it and also very insistent that listening to Wilshaw is tantamount to professional negligence in that it’s almost certain to land you in a category. I really don’t want to get into a debate about the existence of ‘a preferred teaching style’; there is no debate.
I just want to mention the following. Firstly, ‘didactic’ is no longer a description of a teaching style. It seems it’s now an egregious expletive which has the ability to induce a physical reaction in certain quarters.Secondly, apparently well planned, orderly, productive lessons in which there is demonstrable evidence of progress can and are routinely awarded a 3 on the grounds that they lack either: “glitter”, “sparkle” or “oomph”. Lastly, I’d like to point out the perils of success through means which fail to exhibit the necessary degree of glittery crypto-progressive orthodoxy. My school has one highly successful department; the only one which regularly gets within spitting distance of national progress targets. Staff, students, parents and SLT all regard it as outstanding within the school’s context. Although, for the latter, it’s always been a little bit of a black sheep given that its methods are somewhat ‘traditional’-I was going to say didactic but I didn’t want any unsuspecting OFSTED types choking on their lattes.
Anyway, come the feedback, this department was slated for its approach while the others more wedded to ‘preferred’ styles were deemed as having ‘effective strategies for improvement in place’. Little stall was placed in the inconvenient fact that these ‘strategies’ had patently failed to make any impression on results in the previous three years. Rather, it was suggested that SLT direct a ‘learning enquiry’ at the one successful department in order to ‘improve engagement and boost progress’.
Now I wasn’t especially surprised at this turn. What did take me aback was the embarrassed silence that greeted my assertion that possibly this finding was a tad inverted and perverse. I saw a see of concerned but indulgent faces who seemed to regard me as a precocious child lacking the intellectual sophistication to grasp the sheer naivety of my statement. I must stress – I really must stress – that these people weren’t simply suggesting that what I had said was inconvenient; that we all had to just ‘play the game’; that we could get back to the real world once the inspector had left the building. They actually agreed with the inspectors.
It was a clear sign to me of the tragic cognitive dissonance OFSTED induces. These were ostensibly professional competent educationalists who, faced with overwhelming unequivocal evidence tending toward conclusion X, instead, presumably due to a form of conditioned response mechanism, arrived confidently at conclusion not X.
Two things are clear:
- I have to get out of teaching
- OFSTED must die.
The second is from a chair of governors at a primary school who emailed me, about the effect of OFSTED on their school. They asked if I was aware of the recent guidance about grading lesson observations and explained how it contradicted everything they’d been told to do previously.
In one of our regular chats recently our head was fairly incandescent about it the new guidance. It’s not so long since our school, despite being consistently in the top 5% – 10% in the authority in terms of attainment and progress measures, was graded “requires improvement” on the basis of the quality of teaching, due to individual lessons being judged as RI, for reasons such as “that high-achievers group could have been off doing independent research”.
In our post-OFSTED action plan, we have paid our dues in terms of doing all the things that seem to be expected of us, and trying to encourage a dispirited staff to push on towards the re-inspection. Now it seems the rules have changed again. It doesn’t seem so long since I was reading a rubric about what proportion of lessons had to be judged good for the overall judgement to be “good”.
I’m keen to get this sort of sentiment published. I feel one of my roles as a chair of governors is to provide a sympathetic ear and to some degree calm him down, but as I said explicitly to him recently, I recognise I don’t have as much “skin in the game” as he has. I think I hear some echoes of the things I hear at our school in your work: that feeling of being judged by people who don’t really have an appropriate level of accountability for judgements they are making.
As a governor, I do want the best from our staff, but I also feel quite protective towards them as well. They should have a reasonable degree of work/life balance, and I’m keen that they are treated in a way to ensure their longevity in the teaching profession. One thing that has disturbed me as a result of our poor outcome last time round is the seeming desire from OFSTED and HMI to see “blood on the carpet”. This arrived in the shape of one of our teachers deciding she had had enough and was moving on to other things. On the one hand, it does give us something it seems OFSTED/HMI want to hear (“separating the wheat and the chaff”), but on the other, this didn’t seem to me to be a case of a bad teacher ; just one that couldn’t fit with the current regime.
Certainly, anecdotally, it seems to be getting more and more difficult to fill teaching posts. In particular, I shudder at the day our head moves on. One of our assistant heads would certainly be a good candidate, but I believe he really has no interest in applying. Can’t say I blame him – the stakes are just too high – even if you turn in the numbers an inspection team can walk in and after a fairly cursory examination decide you’re still not good enough.
The saving grace in our case seemed to be that the parents just didn’t really believe the outcome of the inspection, which does seem to be something that happens elsewhere.
Finally, and you may have already seen this, we have an example of a school complaining about OFSTED. Obviously, a school with a lowered grade has a vested interest in complaining, and their results are such that the judgement is not a huge surprise, but some of the comments about the behaviour of inspectors are worth reading. This is mainly because none of them sound particularly unlikely or at odds with the sort of story I hear about OFSTED all the time.
Lateness of inspectors disrupted timetabled lessons. KS3 students who were to meet with the inspectors waited in the designated classroom for the entire break time yet they did not all arrive to interview them. They were then asked to return at the start of lunch, however, the inspector was not ready to see them then either. The meeting for students with inspectors, when it did take place, overran by approximately 10 minutes during which time the class due to go in were waiting in the corridor. The corridors are narrow and this caused some congestion. The member of staff whose classroom it was had knocked and politely asked when they would be finishing but was told she would ‘have to wait’… The inspection feedback criticised the congestion in this corridor with the inspector in question commenting that she actually felt ‘unsafe and intimidated’ by our students. The congestion and late entry to the lesson was of the inspectors own making.
…Following an observation of an ICT lesson the inspector demonstrated little understanding of the subject and criticised the topic despite the fact that the teacher had followed a lesson suggested by the exam board. The member of staff was also criticised for not demonstrating progress in the exercise books despite being told that the member of staff had returned from maternity leave just the previous day and this was the very first lesson with her new group.
The quality of observation of a History lesson can also be questioned as the member of staff was informed that her lesson was a secure 2 and when asked how it could have been a 1 she was informed that she should have turned her classroom into Parliament House to set the scene. This comment has no relevance to a member of staff who teaches in over 11 classrooms due to inadequate space within the school building.
…During feedback to a member of the Maths department, the inspector stated that the lesson was a secure 2 but, when asked, could not provide any suggestion as to how to increase this to a 1 and was told ‘keep doing what you are doing’. In the same lesson the staff member was praised on progress as it was evident that Level 4 students were understanding Level 7 work yet after being informed that the significant majority of the class were performing at least their expected levels and, in most cases, above these levels andhad been for the past two years, the inspector stated that he could not judge progress over time. He did not look into the students’ books so it is unclear how he arrived at this judgement.
As I mentioned last time, Civitas are interested in hearing about people’s recent OFSTED experiences. I genuinely believe that the attempts to reform OFSTED currently taking place are sincere, but I think it might take decades to undo the damage they have already done to teaching and learning in schools.