Archive for June, 2016


Is Inclusion Working? | Debate from #educationfest

June 25, 2016

I took part in a discussion on inclusion on Friday.

I think what I most noticed was how little disagreement there was. 10 years ago this was probably the hottest issue in education and the types of views I’m expressing would have been seen as outrageous and I would have been told I needed to be sacked or retrained. Amazing to see how things have moved on.


Why I won’t be complaining that the new chief inspector isn’t an ex-teacher

June 17, 2016

Amanda Spielman, who it was announced at the end of last week would be the next chief inspector, is not a former teacher. Despite my general interests in giving teachers a say over education, this really doesn’t bother me.

Firstly, there are the boring reasons related to the nature of the job:

  • OFSTED doesn’t just inspect schools. It inspects colleges, nurseries and children’s social services.
  • Developments in OFSTED over the last few years have been away from the idea that they should tell teachers how to teach or are about judging individual teachers. This is consistent with that.
  • OFSTED is a large bureaucracy, much bigger than a school, and if we have learnt anything from the strengths and weaknesses of Sir Michael Wilshaw, it’s that what might work well in a school cannot be expected to work well in an inspectorate.

Secondly, I don’t accept that ex-teachers are the experts on education. Those who walk away from teaching and into another job in education are a mixed bag. Some make use of that experience, but others act as if teaching were beneath them. One of my motives for blogging, for getting a classroom teacher’s voice out there, is how often the media present a story about the views of “teachers” that is actually about educationalists, full time employees of teaching unions or headteachers. Obviously you can leave teaching for a good reason, or leave temporarily. But plenty leave because running a classroom is not something they were happy with, and telling teachers what to do was far more enticing. The thought of somebody going from being a classroom teacher to being a chief inspector appeals to me, even if it’s not remotely realistic. But there are plenty of ex-teachers out there who are the last people on earth I’d want near the controls of our education system. There are university education lecturers who won’t admit they are not still teachers; consultants who get hundreds or even thousands of pounds for half a day’s work but still say they are in the job for the kids, and headteachers who will not even admit there are differences between their perspective and interests and those of the people they manage. These might be ex-teachers, but the difference between their world and mine is enormous. The difference between them and somebody who was never a teacher, is that the latter won’t claim to speak for teachers.

Finally, there are positive reasons for wanting Amanda Spielman to be in the most powerful position in education in England. If you are a blogger who has blogged (sensibly) about qualifications while she has been in charge of Ofqual, she’s probably been in touch with you. She listens to teachers and asks how they have been affected by her work. Her record of achievement with Ofqual has been impressive. She has helped make Ofqual evidence-based, transparent and coherent in its approach. If you want somebody with a proven record of reforming a large public bureaucracy in order to make it fair and reliable, there is no person better qualified. She has also done this without seeking any publicity for herself. It is highly unlikely she sees the job as one of telling teachers what to do and making pronouncements to the press. If anyone can ensure that OFSTED that does its job: dealing with the unacceptable without creating uncertainty for everyone in the system, it’s her. Her appointment was the best education news I’ve heard in years.


Bye, bye, Sir Michael

June 12, 2016

This is a little early as I don’t think his term of office officially ends until the end of the year, but I thought my first response to the news of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s replacement as Chief Inspector would be to reflect on the job he has done since his appointment in 2012.

I’ll start with the two main negative points, and then explain why I’m now generally inclined to view his time as chief inspector positively.

Firstly, one of his biggest weakness is that he has been too high profile. He has been too willing to do media interviews, and too willing to express opinions on how to run schools that go beyond reflecting the plans and priorities of his own organisation. I’ve agreed with a lot of opinions he’s expressed, but time and time again things he’s said have been used against him to damage the credibility of his organisation. Usually the comments have been taken out of context or distorted. He did not say it was good for a school if “staff morale is at an all time low” only that people will claim that to stop you improving a school. He did not claim that teachers “don’t know what stress is”; that was a comment about headteachers who won’t accept responsibility for the job they have chosen to do. However, no HMCI has so frequently had his own words used against him since the days when it was normal for every newspaper story about Chris Woodhead to mention his claim that 15 000 teachers were incompetent.

The effect of his outspokenness on his organisation may not have been as bad as the effect on schools. A legion of consultants are still making money out of spreading myths to scared managers about what OFSTED want. Sir Michael’s publicly expressed opinion could be used to add to this. Here’s a quotation from one speech that affected me:

So, what sort of questions will HMI ask? Well, they are ones you would expect. Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? … Are they, for example, people who tolerate scrappy worksheets? [my emphasis] Are they people who insist that children should have good materials to work with, including textbooks, readers and library books which they can use for classwork and homework?

I make this last point because HMI increasingly report to me, and I’ve seen it for myself, that too many schools, particularly secondary schools, have conceded defeat on this issue. As a senior leader in a secondary school said to an HMI recently, ‘we don’t allow our children to take books home because they won’t bring them back the following day’.

What on earth does that tell us about the culture in that particular institution? What on earth does it tell us about leaders who are not prepared to fight the good fight on this basic issue?

Now to me, the point that some schools cannot even enforce a standard as basic as ensuring that students to take home and look after exercise books and textbooks is fair. But following media reports about “scrappy worksheets” one school I worked at last year banned me from using worksheets entirely even though some of my students were working way below the level of the textbooks I had access to and they could not take textbooks home. The OFSTED watching industry feeds off comments like this. Careless words from the HMCI give bad managers a license to tell teachers they are doing it all wrong.

Sir Michael’s other shortcoming was that he took too long to realise what it would take to change the workings of the organisation. He inherited an organisation that was heavily invested in telling teachers the correct way to teach. He himself was fairly traditional, and perfectly happy to tolerate traditional teaching in his own school. He said as much right from the start of his time as HMCI, but it took over two years to get the message across to his inspectors that they were no longer the “child centred inquisition” in charge of driving out traditional teachers. His instincts were to defend his organisation from political pressure first, rather than to seek to change it. Other parts of his organisation, and many, many inspections reports contradicted his claims not to be enforcing a particular style of teaching. The full saga of how gradually things changed can be found by searching for “OFSTED” on this blog. My chapter in Changing Schools also provides some accounts from behind the scenes in the DfE about how concerns were raised.

So why do I think that he was a good Chief Inspector?

I think that most of what I describe above, and most of the other criticisms levelled at him, stem from his efforts to do the right thing. The key point for me is that he always did want to stop OFSTED from dictating teaching methods to classroom teachers and for that we can all be grateful. His pronouncements may have been ignored at first, but over time he made the message clearer and clearer. Reform started to happen within the organisation. Training for inspectors working for private inspection companies was  taken in house. There was a deliberate effort to remove inspectors who had never taught from inspecting teaching, and to bring in inspectors who still worked in schools. Teachers stopped being graded. Eventually inspections stopped being contracted out. Those working as inspectors can no longer advertise that fact in order to get consultancy work which was a likely cause of the spread of myths about how teachers were required to teach. More can still be done, and the latest education white paper suggested further changes. There are still crazy things done in schools in the name of “what OFSTED want” and there are still aspects of what they do that need clarification or reform. But it is now easier than ever to find out what OFSTED actually want, and it impinges less than ever on classroom practice. He has been a successful reformer, if not an efficient one, and I do think classroom teachers, and their students, are better off now than if he had never been Chief Inspector. If his actions have undermined the credibility of OFSTED, it is not because his actions were wrong, but because they helped expose what was wrong with OFSTED before he started the job.


In Scotland’s Schools, it is still 2008

June 3, 2016

Every so often it occurs to me that if you became a teacher in the last 3 or 4 years, and you trained in a good school or possibly on a good university course, you might not be aware of the situation that inspired this blog and also inspired the posts that had the most impact. Then I remember just how many schools there are that just haven’t changed and how many blogs by trainees repeat experience of the same old claims and I realise that almost everybody reading this has heard about the “OFSTED teaching style” (now no longer endorsed by OFSTED).

But just in case you are not familiar with it, the idea was that there was a correct way to teach. Key aspects of “outstanding teaching” were:

  • Sharing long-winded learning objectives (preferably differentiated) and revisiting them at the end.
  • 3 part lessons (starter, main, plenary). The main could be made up of multiple activities.
  • Avoid, or minimise, teacher talk and explanations. Students must be “active” not “passive”, i.e. doing activities not listening. You could be condemned if your class were working too quietly.
  • Progress every 20 minutes, which meant something new would be introduced and assessed in every 20 minute chunk, i.e. no time for prolonged practice or time spent getting better at things they could already do.
  • Do group work every lesson. (Tables would be expected to be in groups not rows.)

There are still managers out there expecting this stuff in every observation, but the days when mosts schools had a checklist provided by a consultant, which would be used to grade teachers on whether they ticked the boxes are gone. This is no longer the era where making this all happen was considered massively more important than exam results. The tide has turned in England, largely because OFSTED have said they aren’t looking for this stuff.

Yesterday, I discovered that Scotland hasn’t moved on. You may have seen headlines such as “Teacher struck off because lessons were ‘too boring’, tribunal rules after complaints from pupils” about the case of Gillian Scott, a teacher in Scotland who was struck off for not living up to the teacher standards. A lot of the response I saw was to the way media coverage suggested that silly complaints (like being “boring”) which are subjective and could be levelled at almost any teacher on a bad day, had been a part of the case. Others pointed out that she had not responded to attempts to improve her teaching and suggested that this could provide better grounds for striking somebody off.

However, what amazed me were some of the complaints mentioned in the final judgement, much of which was based on the lesson observation judgements of David Macluskey, a senior manager. Firstly, it needs to be noticed that actual exam results were dismissed as a measure of teacher effectiveness:

In response to whether it was possible for a teacher to secure A passes for pupils if the suggestion was that the course was not being delivered, Mr Macluskey said that such a result could be down to a variety of factors, including the pupils’ own ability, outside tutors, prior learning, although the teacher would have an impact. Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent would follow the course but there were other issues.

So if exam results cannot show a teacher to be effective, what sort of evidence can be included to show they aren’t? I should say now that I am not trying to summarise the full case, just the bits that amazed me. And I have missed out things that I find objectionable, but cannot be sure are misguided or malicious. Here, from the complaint, are some of the examples of teaching that didn’t meet the teaching standards:

On 2 February 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey….There were no clear learning intentions or success criteria identified at the start of the lesson…

…In or around September 2011, you planned to deliver lessons to your S2, S3 and S4 classes which were repetitive…

…On 21 November 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • You did not refer to success criteria.
  • You failed to recap the learning intentions at the end of the lesson…

…On 15 December 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You did not use learning intentions or success criteria other than have the pupils copy them down….

…On 2 February 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You implemented a task which was meant to be co-operative learning but it was not…

…In or around November 2012, you spent three lessons reading a novel to your S1 class and did not engage the pupils in questioning…

On 3 December 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: …You did not end the lesson with a plenary session and did not refer to success criteria.

On 13 December 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:You did not end the lesson with a plenary session.

On 6 February 2013, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • You quickly referred to the learning intentions and success criteria, however you failed to have any discussion or interaction about these with the pupils.
  • You failed to end the lesson with a plenary in order to check for pupil understanding

On 14 February 2013, in a lesson observed by Mairi Houston… instruct pupils to write an essay following the plan on the board without providing a clear indication of the objectives of the lesson in terms of the learning outcomes and success criteria.

…You failed to communicate with pupils in ways which involve them actively in classwork.

For example: On 21 November 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: There was no active learning by the pupils…

On 15 December 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You led the lesson from the front of the class and did not use a variety of learning techniques including co-operative learning techniques.

On 12 November 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • Pupils sat as far from the front as possible.
  • Pupils were not actively engaged in the lesson and there was little personal interaction between yourself and the pupils.
  • You failed to implement a variety of learning techniques and in particular cooperative learning…

…On 6 February 2013, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: There was little evidence of dialogue between you and the pupils and between the pupils themselves.

…On 14 February 2013, in a lesson observed by Mairi Houston:  …Pupils were spread out across the classroom, isolated and did not interact with each other…

From the summary of the actual case:

Mr Macluskey confirmed that all Perth & Kinross staff had been sent on a course about cooperative learning teachniques [sic] but that he did not think that the Respondent understood the concept. He said that one of the other teachers tried hard to help her understand it but she refused to listen. He said that he had not ever seen her using the technique effectively.

Mr Macluskey said that he was horrified at how bad the Respondent’s lesson was on 2 February 2011, that he had observed. The teaching was so low level that the whole class was bored; the Respondent was telling the class rather than teaching….

…Mr Macluskey said that he had discussed strategies with the Respondent in advance of an observation he was carrying out on 21 September 2011. He said that there was some improvement in this lesson. However, the Respondent had not taken on board most of the things 18 that they had discussed. After a technical malfunction with a YouTube clip, the class became engaged in an ethical discussion about boxing. Mr Macluskey said that the class was ready to be engaged and had strong discussions. However, the Respondent stopped the discussion too early…

…In respect of the classroom observation that he had carried out on 21 November 2011, Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent had set learning intentions, albeit that they were vague. However, he could not remember any success criteria being used in that lesson. He met with the Respondent on 29 November to discuss the observation. He said that it was not as bad as the other lessons but there was no learning or engagement; the Respondent either gave out handouts or told the pupils information…

…Mr Macluskey said that he carried out a further observation on 15 December 2011, after which he prepared a note on the Respondent’s progress on the action plan. Mr Macluskey said that she did not use learning intentions or success criteria, other than have the pupils copy them down; the pace of the lessons was slow and there were no extension materials nor was there any cooperative learning…

…  It was clear that she did not understand co-operative learning…

…Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent got mixed up between what was a learning intention and what was success criteria…

…Mr Macluskey said that he felt that if the Respondent had just “seen the light” then she could have been a better teacher.

…Mr Macluskey said that his concerns that the Respondent did not understand or apply co-operative learning techniques was a recurring theme. He said that there was a variety of different nuances and techniques regarding co-operative learning but that the principle is the same…

…Mr Macluskey was asked whether there was an obligation to have a plenary in a lesson. He replied that it would be strange not to “wrap up” in order to check the pupil’s understanding. He explained that in education, a plenary session is the time to check for understanding, to recap and make sure the pupils have learned what was intended before moving on. He said that it was not compulsory but if a teacher did not do it then they would need to have a good reason, which was not evident in the Respondent’s lesson…

… Ms Libreri said that the observation was carried out on 8 March 2011, with an S1 class … there was a significant period where the pupils were very passive and not engaging in the lesson…

…She said that she could see no active learning on display during the lesson. There was no plenary at the end of the lesson…

… Ms Liberi said that the task given to the pupils of ‘what makes a good friend’ was too long; …

…She said that she discussed with the Respondent what would make good learning intentions and success criteria. She also discussed incorporating a variety of teaching methods, such as role play…

… the Respondent came to observe one of her lessons with the specific purpose of looking at co-operative learning, which encourages pupils to discuss their thoughts and ideas. … Ms Libreri said that she did not see any evidence of co-operative learning during the lesson that she had observed…

…Ms Libreri said that she would expect any probationer teacher to understand about learning intentions and success criteria. In her opinion, the Respondent did not understand the nature of them…

… Ms Libreri said that a plenary session in a lesson is a dialogue as to whether the pupils had achieved the outcomes set and that using success criteria is a good way to form a plenary. Asked whether it had to be at the end of the lesson, Ms Libreri said that a plenary is a summary to assess learning and identify next steps. Asked whether every teacher is required to use learning intentions and success criteria in every lesson, Ms Libreri said that every teacher should be using learning intentions. She said that a plenary could take place during the lesson but that there should be evidence of where the pupils are with their learning and where to go next…

…Ms Houston said that there was a lack of communication from the Respondent and a lack of proper interaction with pupils. From the start of the lesson, there was no clear indication of what the objectives of the lesson were in terms of learning outcomes … She said that she would expect a teacher to set out clear learning intentions and success criteria for pupils so that they are clear what they should be learning and how they would be successful in demonstrating their learning. … She said that she did not think that the Respondent understood why learning intentions and success criteria were important and that she did not believe that a person could teach effectively if they did not have that understanding. Ms Houston said that the six pupils were spread out across the classroom; they were isolated. There was no encouragement from the Respondent for them to interact with each other. She went on to explain what she would have expected from a lesson on how to write a critical essay, including having pupils sharing practice. She said that the purpose of the lesson should have been to equip the pupils with the skills to write a good critical essay, rather than just have them following basic instructions on how to write the essay…

…Ms Houston said that she would have expected even a student teacher on an early placement to have a basic understanding of learning intentions and success criteria but this was not evident in the Respondent’s performance…

… Ms McPherson said that the class were largely passive in their learning and that there were missed opportunities for active learning,..

… Ms McPherson said that it is standard practice, at the end of the lesson, to return to the learning intentions in a plenary session. In the observation, she noted that the learning intentions had not been clearly identified at the start and so the Respondent was unable to draw the pupils back together in a satisfactory way. She said that she could not recall how the learning intentions were conveyed to the pupils but that she would have expected the Respondent to stop and recap on them…

I still haven’t read every part of this case. It is complex and a lot has been written and I am not familiar with the Scottish system. But what I do know is that this year in Scotland, failing to comply with fads from ten or twenty years ago, which have no proven benefit for learning, can be used as evidence that you are not fit to teach.

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