OFSTED Culture

April 12, 2014

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_ImageI 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.


  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. I too think that the attempts to reform ofsted are sincere. I also think that as we are witnessing such resistance from those against the reforms that they are more than mere attempts. I am not sure I would put HMI and ofsted in the same camp.

  3. May I add this too: a Section 8 Inspection report letter written by an inspector from Tribal, published on 22nd January 2014:


    For those who don’t have time to read the whole letter this paragraph is poignant:

    ‘You say that much of the teaching in the school requires improvement. Teaching lacks, at times, vitality and excitement and, as you put it, ‘oomph’! Sometimes teachers still do too much of the thinking for the pupils and over-control lessons. The classrooms, as we both noted, are appropriately organised and resourced, but
    not always exciting enough places for children to learn. All this leads to pupils’ progress and attainment being mediocre.’

    Perhaps, it’s just one of many reports that can be classified as ‘the one that got away’.

    • I think it’s becoming fairly obvious from this thread that OFSTED has a hidden agenda…or hidden curriculum…or secret ingredient, namely: “oomph”. Wouldn’t it have just been simpler to say so from the start? Think of the hours of fun we could have had sorting cards into ‘oomph’ and ‘non oomph’ piles.
      It’s not as straightforward as you might think. Obviously the likes of ‘jazz hands’, ‘sparkle’, ‘chutzpah’ are pretty safe bets for the oomph envelope; likewise ‘calm’, ‘orderly’, ‘productive’ condemn themselves by their very lack of imagination. But what of ‘interesting’, ‘structured’ or ‘determined’? You see it’s not as easy as it looks is it…there are definite grey areas…and as I’m sure you’re aware, education abhors a grey area. Grey areas stand as proxy for vacuums and suck in consultants until ‘balance’ is restored.
      Incidentally, what ever happened to ‘the hidden curriculum’? I did a PGCE more than 20 years ago and we had a full day’s ‘seminar’ on hidden curricula. They even shipped in a strange little man in a corduroy jacket who looked like he’d stepped straight out of a Polytechnic Sociology department some time in the early 70s. He was ok as it happens except that he wound me up by a) not knowing how to pronounce Gramsci b) not knowing what ‘begging the question’ means. Why does nobody know what ‘begging the question’ means. It’s not even as though it isn’t a very valuable concept, especially…coincidentally…when discussing OFSTED.

  4. Have you seen this?
    Updated April 2014
    All the usual worded slightly differently
    From the Maths
    Requires improvement (3)
     Teaching focuses primarily on developing pupils’ skills in mastering techniques and answering routine questions rather than understanding the underlying concepts.
     Teachers’ explanations are accurate but give a piecemeal approach to learning a topic so that pupils are not helped to see the ‘big picture’.
     Opportunities for problem solving are generally restricted to routine cases or are uneven, for example problems occur at the end of exercises so that not all pupils meet them.
    Pupils have some opportunities to investigate and discuss.
     Questioning tends to be closed rather than probing.
     Some barriers to learning and misconceptions are identified and tackled.
     Teachers have adequate subject expertise which they use in their planning and teaching.
    Over time, teaching strategies do not give due regard to the topic being taught or always enable different groups of pupils to learn effectively.
     Teachers understand the value of their subject which they communicate to pupils.
     Teaching occasionally makes links between mathematics and other subjects and with mathematics beyond the classroom.
     Marking is generally accurate and sometimes helps pupils to overcome difficulties.

    • The culture of Osted sets the agenda for CPD – Maths
      “The NCETM, set up in 2006, is managed by a consortium, led by Tribal Education, in partnership with the Institute of Education, University of London (IOE), Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI), and Myscience; it is funded by the Department for Education (DfE).
      The Centre supports all schools and colleges, and all individuals and organisations engaged in maths-specific CPD. An important channel for this support is the growing network of Teaching
      School Alliances, particularly those specialising in mathematics”.
      Ofsted – student led instruction pro-forma for observing lessons

  5. Those descriptors are for subject surveys: not Section 5 inspections. They should not be used by inspectors to grade individual lessons.

    • Thanks for the reply , imho they are being used by schools in performance management observations, departmental reviews and as a guide during drop ins/ learning walks etc.
      The criteria are also being collated and used as the basis for lesson observation criteria that are used when grading lessons by schools.
      In effect we have a performance management system that has institutionalized student led lessons.
      Due to drop in and learning walks teachers not consistently – that is daily running student led lessons with minimal guidance and minimal teacher led and without lesson plans for each lesson are finding themselves on capability.

      • …on capability proceedings are having their pay held or being removed from the upper pay spine.
        If their results are good then this is being judged as due to the efforts of the students despite poor teaching that is not student led.
        Furthermore staff on upper pay spine that are regarded as expert teachers are being required to teach in the way outlined in those web links – if they do not they are faced with either no further pay increases or even removal from their ups points and being placed on capability proceedings.

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