Posts Tagged ‘OFSTED’


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.


An OFSTED Round Up

April 2, 2014

I’m afraid I have rather neglected my blog during this last half term. Some of this has been due to the distractions of ordinary life, but a lot of it has been due to taking some of the opportunities that have come up as a result of blogging. There will be various announcements to come, but one that is relevant to this post, was my brief interview about OFSTED, from the weekend before last, on the Chalk Talk Podcast, which can be found here.

Hopefully, I will now be able to return to regular blogging, but inevitably I will recommence blogging with some comments and news about OFSTED. There’s been a few developments worth noting or commenting on.

1) Bloggers (but not me) meeting OFSTED

A delegation of bloggers were invited in to meet Mike Cladingbowl, OFSTED’s director of schools, in half term. Their accounts can be found below:

I can’t fault those they invited, and I’m particularly happy to see Shena there who, while probably less well-known than the others, has been invaluable to me (and no doubt to many others) in pointing out certain OFSTED developments. But, I’m not going to let false modesty (or any other kind) stop me making the obvious gripe that I wasn’t invited. David commented that:

We have tentatively agreed that a further meeting would be a positive step. Several of us raised the glaring absence of the education blogger most synonymous with holding Ofsted to account. Like Banquo’s ghost, Old Andrew palpably haunted the meeting somewhat. We were told that Ofsted were wary of engaging with anonymous bloggers but now that Andrew has revealed his secret identity in a recent Radio 4 interview maybe they can see their way clear to inviting him (and very possibly others) next time.

I can’t help but point out that it is a little difficult to accept that OFSTED were unaware that I was no longer anonymous, given that the Radio 4 interview David mentioned was actually part of a programme about OFSTED.

That said, I’m slightly more positive about what transpired than many have been. While a good number of people have made comments to me along the lines of “who are OFSTED trying to kid with this stunt?”, it does sound as if Mike Cladingbowl is doing something important. The accounts suggest that he is, as far as I can tell, actually following the same line as the Chief Inspector. My past experience of OFSTED employees was that they simply ignored everything that Michael Wilshaw said about schools, so I’ll happily take that as progress. The other positive development was the announcement (first at the meeting then in this document) that inspectors shouldn’t be grading individual lessons. Graded observations have been key to the enforcement of the “OFSTED teaching style” and this could make a huge difference. Although, it also raises the rather obvious question as to why OFSTED’s director of schools was completely oblivious to how inspectors have actually been operating.

2) The Policy Exchange report “Watching the Watchmen”.

This can be found here. I rate it highly, simply because it seems to focus on what I, and I think many teachers, see as the key issues. It discusses the saga of the “OFSTED teaching style”, (with my NUT article quoted as a source). It criticises the unaccountable nature of the inspectors and, particularly, the arms length employment of most of them through private companies. It also highlights the unreliable nature of lesson observations. All of these have been common enough topics on social media, and among teachers, but the reaction to the report suggests that this report has indicated them to a much wider audience. That said, the most prominently discussed proposals were those aimed at reducing the burden of inspection on “good” schools. I am not particularly convinced that this will help matters. The issues with OFSTED are to do with the unfair and unaccountable nature of their decisions, and the absurd nature of the incentives they provide, and while many critics of OFSTED are reluctant to emphasise this point, this is as much a problem with declaring the unacceptable to be good as with attacking the excellent.

3) Michael Wilshaw’s ASCL apeech

This can be found here. Again, the proposals for less inspection of “good” schools, similar to the Policy Exchange proposals, got the most publicity. What interested me most were the remarks about the private companies involved in inspection:

…Ofsted needs to undertake a root and branch review of outsourced inspection. Inspection, as far as I’m concerned, is just too important for Ofsted to simply have oversight of third party arrangements.

The tendering for the contracts is up for renewal fairly soon and I’ll make my decision about the future of outsourced inspection when that time comes.

There are a number of other suggestions and observations that suggest the Chief Inspector is finally grasping the nature of the organisation he is attempting to lead. That said, I think Rob Peal has it about right here in pointing out that he seemed to deny the very problems which elsewhere he had promised to address.

4) Tribal’s letter to inspectors

This can be found on John Bald’s blog here and I suggest reading it. If genuine (and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be) it would indicate that Tribal, a Regional Inspection Provider, is sufficiently worried about scrutiny from above leading to financial penalties, to warn its inspection teams to do everything by the book. In practice, this could mean even more in the way of check-lists and bureaucracy and I’d be amazed if OFSTED did have the nerve to stand up to a contractor, but it would seem to indicate that a shift in power is occurring in OFSTED and the centre is now asserting itself. As ever, it does nothing to reverse the damage already done, but at least it provides some indicator about a seriousness of intent within OFSTED’s leadership.

5) Civitas Call for Evidence

The think tank Civitas are interested in hearing (in confidence) from people who have been inspected since last December who can answer the following questions:

• Were particular teaching styles criticised or praised in your written inspection report?

• Were particular teaching styles criticised or praised in your verbal feedback?

• Have you being told by senior leaders or CPD providers to teach in a certain style to suit Ofsted?

• Were you graded on the basis of an individual lesson, as opposed to a wide variety of evidence?

If you are able to help, then there are full details here.


That Gove/Wilshaw Spat

February 13, 2014

Yesterday, Michael Wilshaw was quizzed by the House of Commons Education Committee. You can find the full footage here.

One of the issues which came up was the report in the Sunday Times, from a couple of weeks ago, based around an interview with Sir Michael Wilshaw where he had apparently complained of attacks by those with some connection to Michael Gove. This split lead to a lot of confusion among those who were unaware of the issues around OFSTED. Wilshaw’s explanation, was reported by the BBC as follows:

Sir Michael told the committee he had been furious when, in a response in the Sunday Times, he had blamed Mr Gove’s aides for briefing on it.

Asked by Education Select Committee chairman Graham Stuart if he had made a mistake in not checking whether the allegations in the Times were true, Sir Michael said: “In retrospect I probably did, but nonetheless, it was a spontaneous act of fury.”

Sir Michael added: “The Secretary of State saw me and said that no briefing had taken place, there was no dirty tricks campaign, or anything like that and that he would take action with anyone who was involved in that.

“He is an honourable man and I accepted his word.”

The two think tanks have both since confirmed they were working on reports on Ofsted, but denied that their work was being done with encouragement from the Department for Education.

Sir Michael told MPs he had been “absolutely outraged” at the suggestion that Ofsted was “mired” in 1960s ideology, adding he was old enough to remember teaching in those days and how low expectations of pupils had been.

“I was very angry that the authority of Ofsted had been damaged and undermined.”

He said many children taught in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, before the introduction of Ofsted inspections, had been failed.

Firstly, the details of the main complaint seems strange. From the original report:

In an exclusive interview, Sir Michael Wilshaw told The Sunday Times he was “displeased, shocked, angry and outraged” at attacks by rightwingers on the integrity of the inspectorate, whose job is to rate the quality of schools.

“I am spitting blood over this and I want it to stop,” he said. Asked whether he wanted Gove to call off the attack dogs, he replied: “Absolutely”, adding “it does nothing for his drive or our drive to raise standards in schools. I was never intimidated as a headteacher and I do not intend to be intimidated as a chief inspector.”

The row signals a growing rift between the Tories and Wilshaw, who heads the inspectorate Ofsted, which has slated several of the party’s flagship free schools and academies. Think tanks close to Gove are said to be demanding Ofsted be scrapped, claiming it is trapped by its adherence to progressive theories from the 1960s.

Wilshaw seemed to have fully accepted the narrative (mentioned here) that think tanks who criticise OFSTED are right-wingers acting on Gove’s behalf. While it may be significant that think tanks seen as being on the right are criticising OFSTED, to interpret it as a right/left issue, or as being about personalities is to miss completely what is actually going on. Think tanks are, on the whole, not keen to be labelled as right or left-wing, and are not exclusively committed to a simple ideological stance. Although they are keen to forge links with politicians and they aren’t keen to get involved with pointless arguments (like this one) over where they should be placed on the political spectrum, they tend to do more than follow the bidding of politicians. Both think tanks include people who specialise in education policy, including people who follow me on Twitter. Why shouldn’t they be raising questions about OFSTED?

The political agenda narrative is particularly easy to cast doubt on when looking at Civitas. They have had strong links with Tristram Hunt prior to him becoming Labour’s shadow education secretary and a long history of looking at OFSTED. Their Deputy Director  who had written extensively about OFSTED in the past, was identified as a member of the Labour Party in an apology in the Guardian after they implied she advised Gove.

Of course, if the think tanks are a red herring here, it is possible that Gove (or his advisors) are known by Wilshaw to have issues with OFSTED. However, the opinion, attributed to Wilshaw, that this is over the inspection of free schools or academies is a convenient one for putting the blame completely on Gove. For those with more familiarity with the OFSTED issue and Gove’s attitude to it, there’s another explanation. Back in September, Gove had vouched for Wilshaw’s ability to change OFSTED, telling an audience at a Policy Exchange event the following:

…there have been occasions – in the past – when inspection has not achieved what it should.

Too few inspectors had recent – or current – experience of teaching.

The framework, prior to 2010, required schools to be judged against more than 27 different criteria – putting ‘quality of teaching’ on a par with ‘whether pupils adopted healthy lifestyles’ and ‘the extent to which pupils contribute to the school and wider community’.

And Ofsted’s guidance provided too little clarity about what constituted good teaching; or allowed inspectors’ personal prejudices and preferences to be interpreted as ‘the Ofsted way’.

As a result, and as teacher bloggers like Andrew Old have chronicled, time and again too much emphasis was given to particular practices like group work and discovery learning; while Ofsted inspectors marked teachers down for such heinous crimes as ‘talking too much’, ‘telling pupils things’ or ‘dominating the discussion’.

The good news is that Ofsted – under its inspirational new leadership – is moving to address all these weaknesses and give us a system of inspection of which we can be proud.

For OFSTED to still be writing much the same things (as shown here), almost 5 months after Gove vouched for them, seems to give those in the DfE every right to be critical of OFSTED. They must be aware, that if Gove’s opposite number hadn’t turned out to be even more in the thrall of OFSTED than the government had been, then Wilshaw’s failure to deliver what Gove promised, could have been used to make political capital against the government. We can ask if Wilshaw’s efforts to reform OFSTED are a heroic failure by the best person for the job, or a sign that he was never up to it, but it is hard to miss that so far he has failed in his efforts to reform OFSTED and, as the minister responsible for this, Gove has failed too. In that light, then it is hard to avoid seeing Wilshaw’s comments as the defensive reaction of somebody who, having failed to deliver what they promised, wishes to blame those who were foolish enough to think he would deliver.

There has been plenty more debate OFSTED since, and all sorts of political narratives to explain it, but the core of this issue is the way in which OFSTED is both harmful to education and, so far, extremely resistant to reform. Where the blame for this lies is hard to tell because it is a bureaucracy, but the starting point of the discussion has to be the failures of OFSTED and those who have sought to reform it.

I will be taking part in a live chat on OFSTED on the Guardian website this evening here.

Update 14/2/2014: A Radio 4 programme about OFSTED, in which I feature, can be found here.


OFSTED Quotations About Independence

January 31, 2014

The following are recent quotations from OFSTED publications, referring to independence and independent learning. Spot the odd one out.

From the December 2013 OFSTED handbook:

Not all aspects of learning, for example pupils’ engagement, interest, concentration, determination, resilience and independence, may be seen in a single observation.

From the December 2013 additional guidance for inspectors:

Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable.

From HCMI’s letter to inspectors (January 22nd, 2014) referring to the guidance quoted above:

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’…

…In summary, 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.

From the OFSTED report for Our Lady and St Chad Catholic Sports College, inspected 9-10 January, and published today:

Behaviour is not outstanding because students across the school have yet to demonstrate through their progress exceptional independence…


Last Week’s OFSTED Story in the Times

January 30, 2014

I did promise I’d return to the news stories about OFSTED. When writing the recent blogposts about OFSTED’s chaos over recent reports and inspectors ignoring every word Sir Michael Wilshaw says, it’s very easy to assume that their general hopelessness, love of trendy teaching and current state of apparent crisis is widely known. Actually, until last weekend, they were often presented in the media as a cadre of ruthlessly efficient, right-wing enforcers imposing every whim of Michael Gove and intent on privatising children. That’s why recent stories publicising the reality are so important.

Last week saw a report in the Times (behind a paywall, sorry) claiming:

Pressure is mounting for Ofsted to be overhauled or scrapped as supporters of Michael Gove accuse school inspectors of being trapped by 1960s “progressive” approaches to learning.

Civitas, a right-of-centre think-tank, is to call for a new inspectorate for academies and free schools in a pamphlet to be published soon. It will argue that the Education Secretary’s wish for schools to develop their own approaches to teaching is being held back by child-first orthodoxies among inspectors, who are stifling innovation.

Policy Exchange, another right-leaning think-tank set up by Mr Gove himself, also plans to call for wholesale changes at Ofsted in a forthcoming report. It will say that the current inspection regime places disproportionate pressure on teachers, while its judgments are too inconsistent.

The two inquiries reflect growing frustration within the Department for Education (DfE) over complaints from heads and teachers about Ofsted reports that appear to contradict the thrust of government policy. Some protest that inspectors have criticised teachers for talking for too long in lessons.

Others say inspection teams have demanded more group work, independent learning and interaction among children, which critics associate with the “child-led” philosophy of education that Mr Gove is trying to stamp out.

The article goes on to describe the two think tanks as right-wing allies of the secretary of state, and distinguishes between the chief inspector (who, of course, does deny wanting a particular style of teaching) and the many inspectors who do enforce a particular style of teaching.

The debate which followed on from this (which I will have to comment on before too long, if I can), emphasised the personalities involved and at times seemed to assume that the issues around OFSTED were not actually the ones mentioned in the article. But, as any reader of this blog knows, there is a real issue here. OFSTED inspectors do act as if they have a particular ideological agenda. They do seem to ignore the direction of their own leadership, let alone the agenda of any politician. It is not a surprise that these think tanks are interested. There are people from both of them who follow me on Twitter. Civitas have been critical of OFSTED in the past (here and here) and has a history of involvement in recent education debates from a position directly opposed to that they attribute to OFSTED. Policy Exchange has quite a high profile on education too, with frequent events and publications on educational issues. It is hardly shocking that they would know what the score is, or that they would be critical of OFSTED.

However, I would hope that this has raised the issue of how OFSTED behave and will keep it in the public eye. I also hope that teachers can play a part in this debate. To that end, it is probably worth mentioning a couple of things.

1) Policy Exchange’s consultation on OFSTED is open until Monday, asking “teachers, heads, inspectors or others” about their experiences of OFSTED. It would be great if some of the people who tell me things about their experiences could also tell them.

2) If anyone is willing to speak to a journalist about experiences of OFSTED criticising them personally (or their school) for too much teacher talk and not enough independent learning, then please let me know so I can put you in touch with one who is interested.

This is likely to be an ongoing debate in both politics and the media, and it would be great if it can be informed as much as possible by the experience of teachers, rather than the usual succession of clueless talking heads who dominate so much of the public debate about education.


Can OFSTED stop publishing ridiculous reports, even if they try?

January 27, 2014

I’m struggling to keep up with developments regarding OFSTED, particularly as they’ve been in the news recently (I’ll try to comment on that tomorrow or Wednesday) but I am not going to miss the opportunity to write a post about the letter to inspectors Sir Michael Wilshaw sent out last week. I’m not the first blogger to present the text of this letter (it was on this blog on Saturday and an extract was available here  earlier in the week) but I can’t resist repeating it, and commenting. I will include the full text, with some additional observations throughout and further comments at the end.

Over the last 18 months, I have emphasised in a number of speeches that Ofsted is not prescriptive about the way that teaching is delivered and does not recommend a suite of preferred teaching styles. Inspectors should only be concerned with the impact that teaching has on children’s learning, progress and outcomes. Our new guidance on the inspection of teaching in schools reinforces this. I quote:

‘Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Moreover, they must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance. For example, they should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time.

It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual. 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.’

Nevertheless, 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’

‘Insufficient time was given to collaborative learning’

‘Students are not given sufficient opportunity to support their classmates in their learning’

‘Pupils are not sufficiently engaged in their own learning’

‘Teaching requires improvement because pupils do not get enough opportunities to work alone or in groups’

‘Weak teaching is characterised by teachers talking too much.’

I think what’s most gratifying about reading these very familiar sounding phrases is that it suggests that, finally, the chief inspector is doing what I’ve been doing for almost a year now and actually reading the reports his organisation puts out. This would also explain why so many reports recently had been changed or held up, with these sorts of phrases being removed. Of course, this leaves the question of what he was doing up until this point. He seemed content to change the various documentation which tells inspectors what to do, and then just leave it at that when it is ignored. There is still no sign of any specified sanction or consequence for any inspector who ignores the advice, but at least they now know he’s watching them.

It is quite acceptable for a teacher to talk a lot as long as the children are attentive, interested, learning and making progress. If not, it is quite legitimate for inspectors to say that poor planning and lesson structure meant that children lost focus and learnt very little.

There is so much more that could be said about teaching without infringing the professional judgement of teachers to decide the most appropriate style of teaching to get the best out of their students. For example:

Do lessons start promptly?

Are children focused and attentive because the teaching is stimulating?

Is the pace of the lesson good because the teacher is proactive and dynamic in the classroom?

Is homework regularly given?

Is literacy a key component of lessons across the curriculum?

Do teachers use display and technology to support teaching?

Are low expectations resulting in worksheets being used rather than textbooks?

Are the most able children provided with work which stretches them and allows them to fulfil their true potential?

Are children expected to take books home to do their homework and return them the following day?

Does marking give a clear indication of what the children have to do to improve and are clear targets being set?

Is the structure of the lesson promoting good learning and are children given sufficient time to practise and reinforce what is being taught?

Do teachers have sufficient expertise to be able to impart to students the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed?

Does the school have a robust professional development programme which is improving the quality of teaching by disseminating good practice across the school or college?

Are teaching assistants supporting teaching effectively or are they simply ‘floating about’?

These are some remarkable recommendations. Some seem quite random, or possibly out of date. While I can imagine that there was once a time when worksheets were seen as less demanding than textbooks, I’m not sure that can really be claimed these days. A lot of my worksheets are photocopies from old textbooks, used because the newer textbooks are too dumbed down. @cazzypot has written a critique of these suggestions on her blog. I’m, perhaps, more sympathetic to these than she is, but only with the proviso that they are used to gauge whole school expectations not assess individual lessons. Too many of them are dependent on the culture of the whole school to be a fair way to judge individuals.

In summary, 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.

In saying all this, I recognise that a report-writing orthodoxy has grown up over the years which owes as much to the formulaic approach of the national strategies as to any guidance that Ofsted has given inspectors. We must continue to break free of this and encourage inspectors to use their freedom to report in language that has meaning and relevance to the institutions we inspect and the parents and students who read our reports.

Only by doing this can we hope to use inspection to raise standards.

It is an interesting point about the national strategies. It would indicate that some of his inspectors reflect a culture that involves an orthodoxy older and more established than Sir Michael’s involvement in OFSTED. As a comment on Twitter pointed out (when Mark McCourt made similar observations), OFSTED are “like the Dementors who act for but are not under [the] control of the Ministry of Magic”.

However, the phrase “please, please, please” is also revealing. How much influence does he have to change anything? There is new guidance. There is a precedent for reviewing, editing or delaying reports that don’t comply. There is a begging letter. Will inspectors comply? Well, as I understand it, this letter was published on the 22nd. That same day the report for King Solomon High school was published. It told us:

In the best lessons… Students respond well to the chance to think things out for themselves and choose the work they do. In a mathematics lesson, students who had already grasped the concepts being taught were then tasked to lead the learning of others. They responded well to the challenge and others say they benefited from the support they received from their peers…

…The best behaviour in lessons results from high quality teaching where there are plenty of opportunities for students to find out things for themselves in a supportive, but challenging, environment. This does not happen often enough and results in some students not taking an active role in their own learning.

Well, that was on the day of the letter. How about since? This is from the report from Forest Gate Community school published on Friday, for an inspection in the final week before the holidays. This is one of the two most recent reports from secondary schools. Published after the letter; after reports had been withdrawn and rewritten; after all this fuss and over a month since the new guidance, quoted above by Sir Michael Wilshaw, warned against condemning passivity or demanding independent learning.

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Often, there are limited opportunities for students to be actively involved in lessons, leading, on occasion, to poor behaviour…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Improve the quality of teaching … by ensuring that all teachers: plan lessons which provide opportunities for students to become more independent and take responsibility for helping themselves to improve… Improve behaviour in all lessons by allowing students to be more actively involved in tasks so that they retain their interest and do not disengage or become restless…

The quality of teaching requires improvement… Although teachers use a range of different strategies to help students to understand and broaden their knowledge and skills, in some lessons, work is over directed by the teacher and there are few opportunities for students to find things out for themselves. In these lessons, students sometimes become passive or restless and disengage from the lesson. Opportunities are missed in allowing them the independence to take more responsibility to drive their learning forwards or be more actively involved.


Arnold Hill Academy Responds to the OFSTED Shambles

January 26, 2014

I don’t know whether to take this to indicate that OFSTED are willing to revise the judgements, rather than just the wording, from their December 2013 inspections (something I have argued should be happening) or simply as an indicator that OFSTED is now in such a state that schools think it’s worth pre-emptively dismissing what they say. Nor do I know anything about this school (and while I’m happy to hear anecdotally what it’s like by email, I’m not planning to allow a discussion of that in the comments on this post).

However, this statement appears on the website of Arnold Hill Academy and the tone strikes me as the only sane way for schools to respond to what’s going on. It also raises questions about just what OFSTED are up to at the moment. (Thanks to @KateKelly20 for pointing this out to me.)

Ofsted admit their own inspection process is flawed!

Staff and Governors at Arnold Hill Academy were surprised recently when the Ofsted Regional Director for the East Midlands, Louise Soden, admitted in a letter to the Principal that the Ofsted inspection of the Academy before Christmas had been “flawed”.

This expression of concern about the quality and practice of Ofsted’s inspection of Arnold Hill Academy has come at a time when the watchdog has come under wide criticism for changing a number of schools’ inspection reports because they contradicted their own official guidance. Ofsted admitted recently to the Times Educational Supplement (TES) that “…the reports of all other inspections carried out before Christmas [have] also been put on hold to allow further checks for errors”

There then follows a link, which doesn’t seem to be working, which is presumably intended to be for this article.

Arnold Hill Academy had a subject-based inspection in July 2012 and was judged by Ofsted to have ‘Outstanding’ achievement, curriculum, leadership and management. A previous Ofsted inspection in September 2010 judged Arnold Hill to be a ‘Good’ school.

Ofsted inspected Arnold Hill Academy on 5th and 6th December 2013 and were expected to have published their report within 15 working days of this inspection. However, Ofsted’s decision to now delay publication of their report amidst concerns over the quality of their own judgements and practices is causing unnecessary anxiety amongst pupils, staff and the wider community.

Having deemed the initial Ofsted inspection as “flawed” a follow up visit was made to the school on Monday 13th January and the Academy are currently awaiting written feedback following that visit. The Chair of Governors, Nigel Bradley, said “We have always valued Ofsted as an agent of change however we are concerned that Ofsted now regard their own practice as ‘flawed’. The initial inspection in December provided what we felt was an accurate reflection of where the Academy’s strengths and weaknesses lie.”

On Thursday 16th January Arnold Hill Academy submitted a detailed complaint to Ofsted regarding their concerns around the impact of Ofsted’s indecision, conduct and inconsistency on the school community. Ofsted have acknowledged receipt of this complaint but not yet responded to the Academy other than stating merely that they will “aim to send a response….no later than 3rd March 2014”.

Robin Fugill, Principal at Arnold Hill Academy said “We recognise that Ofsted’s delays may cause staff, pupils and parents anxiety so we will ensure they are kept up to date with developments on a regular basis”.

I think there is an issue here in that a lot of the consequences of OFSTED inspections stem from the reaction of the governors and local community to an inspection report. If it is now widely known that the inspection system is a shambles, then that reaction may be very different.


Two More Edited OFSTED Reports

January 25, 2014

In my last post, I went through the OFSTED reports that I had commented on here to see if they had been edited after being published. However, I failed to comment on the first report I had discovered to be altered, that of John Wilmott School. I also missed changes to the report of another school, Bushey Academy, as I (carelessly) hadn’t noticed any problems with the original. Apologies, for the omissions, all I can say is, I was very busy last week and 5 am blogging is not always going to be perfect. I will now look at the changes to those reports here.

John Willmott School

The words “how well they are doing or” have been removed from:

When teachers mark work, they do not always tell students how well they are doing or how to improve their work, or make sure that they follow any guidance given.

The following section (a favourite of mine) has been removed:

Sometimes teachers give students too much information in lessons and do not encourage them enough to learn independently.

The recommendation that the school “provide regular opportunities for students to learn independently” has been removed.

The following section has been removed:

Teachers sometimes direct students’ learning too much, preventing students from working independently. This limits students’ chances to discuss ideas with each other and to come up with their own ways of solving problems.

In the section about the sixth form, the complaint that “work does not offer enough opportunities for students to work independently” is now a complaint that “work does not offer enough opportunities for students to do their own research”.

The following phrase has been removed:

In the best lessons they encourage independent writing…


The Bushey Academy

The sentence:

Teaching is good because teachers have high expectations and plan lessons carefully.

has been changed to:

Teaching is good because teachers have high expectations and plan work carefully for the needs and abilities of different groups of students.

The word “Some” has been added to the beginning of the following:

Students do not always heed the advice their teachers give about how to improve their work

The recommendation that the school:

Improve the quality of teaching by ensuring consistent high-quality marking across all subjects that involves students in a dialogue with their teachers about how they are improving their work.

is now a recommendation that the school:

Improve the quality of teaching
– by ensuring consistent high-quality marking across all subjects
– by ensuring that students take account of the guidance they are given in order to improve their work .

This might reflect a realisation that schools have become overly pre-occupied with particular styles of marking.

Students develop in confidence through frequent opportunities to work collaboratively, either by checking and advising each other’s learning, or as part of a team.

has been replaced with:

Students develop in confidence by checking and advising on each other’s work.

The following section:

Students do not readily share their perceptions of what they find challenging or difficult with their teachers because, in a small minority of lessons, students are too passive in their learning.

has been replaced with:

Students do not readily share their perceptions of what they find challenging or difficult with their teachers. In a small minority of lessons, teachers do not always expect them to join in with discussions or answer questions.


Some of these changes bring new things to light – the evaluation of marking is apparently under some consideration – however, this is the same story as before. No judgements change even where the reasons given have been removed, and some of the most ideologically charged statements have been rephrased to avoid particular words but retain the same basic content. There is no change in approach, nor ideology, only a desire to express it less openly.


More OFSTED Reports Edited After Publication

January 24, 2014

You may recall a post from a week ago listing various OFSTED reports from the previous two weeks which violated the latest guidance (not to mention everything OFSTED have been saying for the last 18 months and common sense). Some of these have now been revised.

I have found the following changes.

De Warenne Academy 

Improvement is required in students’ behaviour as their attitudes and application to work are not consistently good enough across all subjects and year groups to make a positive contribution to their learning.

has been changed to:

Improvement is required in students’ behaviour as their attitudes and application to work are not consistently good enough across all subjects and year groups.


Teachers do not always ensure that students are challenged more to think for themselves and work or study independently to increase their rate of learning.

has been changed to:

Teachers do not always ensure that students are challenged to think and solve problems for themselves in order to increase their rate of learning.

The recommendation of:

a particular focus on how the best teaching pushes students to think for themselves and work more independently

has been changed to:

a particular focus on ensuring students think for themselves and solve problems


In lessons that require improvement, students are less willing to work hard to achieve their learning targets, preferring instead to expect a lot of ‘scaffolding’ or significant help from teaching and support staff.

has been changed to:

In lessons that require improvement, students are less willing to work hard to achieve their learning targets, preferring instead to expect significant help from teaching and support staff.

The following section has been removed:

In their keenness to guide students and remind them of elements that need to be included in their work to reach higher grades, teachers sometimes over-direct the lesson. This reduces the time available for students to work collaboratively and independently at thinking and solving problems for themselves. It also affects the rate at which some students can demonstrate their understanding through completion of tasks in their workbooks.

However, later on there appears this apparent replacement:

Not all students have enough opportunities to think and solve problems for themselves. This affects the rate at which some students can demonstrate their understanding.

Sections about the “better” lessons are now only about “some lessons” and in these lessons students who were “motivated to take more responsibility for their own learning” are now “motivated to get on with their learning”

A reference to the teacher’s “role as a facilitator” has also been removed and “independent study skills” are now just “study skills”.


The International School (Birmingham)

Teachers do not all draw on a variety of approaches to actively engage students or require them to work independently.

has been changed to:

Teachers do not all draw on a variety of approaches to actively engage students.

The recommendation that:

 …students are required more often to work independently of the teacher for parts of lessons.

has been changed to a recommendation that:

students are encouraged more often to work without direct help from the teacher for parts of lessons.


Too few lessons have opportunities for students to work independently of the teacher for periods of time, so that they are able to take responsibility for their own learning rather than relying too much on teachers for explanations and directions.

has been replaced with:

Few lessons include opportunities for students to work without direct help from the teacher for periods of time, so they do not develop the ability to take responsibility for their own learning rather than relying too much on teachers for explanations and directions.


…there are few examples of students responding to marking and verbal advice

is now

…students rarely use the advice given in the marking and verbal feedback to improve their


Leighton Middle School

The following section has been removed:

Pupils are not offered enough opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning or to develop as independent learners

along with the advice to improve teaching by:

…encouraging pupils to become more independent and take greater responsibility for their own

and also:

However there are not sufficient opportunities for the development of independent learning built into all lessons or subjects.

A phrase about teachers who were “quick to offer guidance and advice that will skilfully correct misconceptions or adjust errors so that learning is positive and rewarding” has lost the “so that learning is positive and rewarding” part.

The following has been added:

Where marking gives pupils advice, teachers do not always check that pupils act on it.

A section about sports funding has been developed to mention:

More opportunities for competitive games, swimming, athletics and extra coaching for the most able are all increasing the pupils’ health and well-being.


Perryfields High School Specialist Maths and Computing College

In less effective lessons, students were not given enough opportunity to work independently and develop their own ideas. This was because teachers talked too much and too little time was made available for students to work on planned activities.

has been changed to

In less effective lessons, students were not given enough opportunity to work without adult help on developing their own ideas. This was because teachers allowed too little time for students to work on planned activities.


In the best lessons, students had opportunities to work in a range of different ways, including independently, and made good progress both in the lesson and over time.

has been changed to:

In the best lessons, students had opportunities to work in a range of different ways, including exploring their own ideas, and made good progress.


In all lessons there was a positive environment for learning. This is particularly the case where students are highly engaged and find lessons interesting because they have well-planned opportunities for independent working.

has been changed to:

In all lessons there was a positive environment for learning. This is particularly the case where
students are highly engaged and find lessons interesting because they have well-planned
opportunities for exploring their own ideas to extend their work.


Whitcliffe Mount – Specialist Business and Enterprise College

In some lessons, there are too few opportunities for students to develop their learning skills through paired or group work.

has been replaced with:

In some lessons, there are too few opportunities for students to actively participate in their own learning.


In a small minority of lessons, teachers spend too much time explaining what is required and pace slows, so that students get less opportunity to complete work independently, and as a result, make less progress.

has been replaced with:

In a small minority of lessons, teachers spend too much time explaining unnecessarily what is required and pace slows, so that students get less opportunity to complete their work and, as a result, make less progress.

The following phrase has been removed:

The use of problem solving and independent research so that students take more responsibility for their own learning is not a consistent feature of all lessons.


I actually like some of the changes regarding marking, but the key changes are that a few of the phrases about independent learning and teaching styles have been removed, without any changes in the resulting judgements. Often, they have deliberately minimised the changes, removing any reference to being “independent” but replacing it with another euphemism for the same thing (i.e. less teaching). The impression this gives is that OFSTED are prepared to conceal the extent to which they judge schools based on an ideological belief in minimal guidance from teachers, but they aren’t actually prepared to change that practice or even alter judgements based on it. If this is the evidence available, OFSTED have not changed, but they are learning to hide their ideological preferences slightly more. Many schools will still want to play it safe by discouraging traditional teaching.


Ten Questions OFSTED Need to Answer

January 21, 2014

As you may recall, I blogged here about how OFSTED had altered the comments, but not the grades, on a couple of inspection reports (and possibly done something similar to another 4 reports) and how they seemed to have stopped publishing new reports. This was after I had blogged (here) about how various reports, including the two altered ones, had contradicted the latest guidance. Although I could not be sure exactly what had happened, and I even had one HMI on Twitter suggest that the apparent absence of reports might be down to problems with the search engine or a result of the Christmas holiday, the details have now been confirmed in a report on the TES website.

…it has emerged that six school inspection reports published this month were retrospectively amended after their release, because they did not comply with Ofsted’s guidance.

The publication of the reports of all other inspections carried out before Christmas has also been put on hold to allow further checks for other errors, Ofsted told TES.

The report goes on to say:

An Ofsted spokesman told TES that it had made several minor changes to six reports, but no overall grades were affected. It had delayed publishing the reports of all other schools inspected before Christmas for “final quality assurance checks to confirm [inspectors] were following the latest published guidance, especially around teaching”.

“This exercise is now complete and the reports are expectedto [sic] appear on the website from early tomorrow onwards,” he added.

This raises some pretty serious questions. If anyone can find out the answers to the following, I’d be very interested.

1) Which are the 4 reports that have been altered that I haven’t identified, and what has been changed?

2) How were the 6 edited reports identified? We know that there were plenty or other reports that broke the guidance (I originally identified 5 such report but only 2 have been changed, and when I looked the following week a majority of the reports I found broke the guidance).

3) Is it a coincidence that the 2 reports that we know to have been altered, were ones where it looked as if the opinions about teaching style (which shouldn’t have been expressed) could have affected some of the grades given in the report, or even the overall grade?

4) If it is accepted that the reports were flawed, why are the grades still allowed to stand? It hardly seems fair to say the justifications for the grades were wrong but the grades were correct.

5) For those reports that have been held up for further checking, were the grades reviewed or only the wording?

6) Has anyone apologised to individual teachers or groups of teachers, who would have been criticised by inspectors for failing to comply with the approved teaching style? People’s careers will have been affected by the criticisms made during feedback and in the reports.

7) Is anyone involved in this colossal screw-up being disciplined for their part in this? I realise that the inspections were carried out before the latest guidance was issued, but the OFSTED handbook has said there was no preferred teaching style for well over a year now.

8) Do procedures even exist for dealing with inspection teams who judge according to the wrong criteria, particularly those employed by private companies paid to carry out inspections? There seems to be little accountability here for inspectors. At times it seems like the only people scrutinising OFSTED are bloggers.

9) Why has OFSTED recently published subject specific guidance which still suggests judging lessons (in subject surveys) on the basis of teaching style?

10) Is OFSTED of the view that the only issue here is one of “wording” and not one of flawed and unfair judgements? This is a critical question if inspectors are to be prevented from continuing to judge on the basis of teaching style and simply not mention in reports that they have done so.

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