Today I went to a meeting with Mike Cladingbowl at the Ofsted office in Birmingham. There were nine of us Twitter teachers present, and a very pleasant meeting it was too. Mike was a warm and welcoming host and the M&S biscuits were delicious!
The meeting began with introductions from us all, although even these sparked conversation, interjection and discussion. This very much set the tone for the next three hours. There was no fixed agenda, but we were all given opportunity to have our say, and ask any pressing questions.
I tried as best as I could to make detailed notes – where possible verbatim – especially around issues that most interested or concerned me. I soon began to regret grabbing one of my daughter’s tiny note books on the way out of the door!
I’ll try my best to outline here some of the discussion points which I felt were most interesting and relevant. Unless made clear, these are the responses given by Mike Cladingbowl:
Regarding the centralising of inspector training from 2015:
ISPs haven’t done a bad job, necessarily. In the main, the inspection grades fall in the right ball park. However, some weak inspectors have hidden behind the framework and even gone into schools with pre-determined grades in mind. These tend to be the same inspectors who also work as paid consultants, offering advice and training to schools.
Regarding the ‘outstanding’ rating:
At present, there are no plans to remove the ‘outstanding’ rating. (I asked if there should perhaps just be two ratings ‘good enough’, or ‘not good enough’) it’s very important to remember that being good enough (as opposed to not good enough) is key.
Regarding preparing kids for the future:
‘How are you making sure your kids have got aspirations beyond where you live?’ Is an important question to ask. Not, ‘How are you serving your local community?’. The point here being, that it’s important to see the bigger picture and thereby encourage aspirations
Primary v/s Secondary:
(Here, Mike expressed some strong views about standards in secondary education which were endorsed by many colleagues around the table) Literacy standards (in particular) tend to fall once a child starts secondary school. “Local secondary schools give kids stuff to do that they can already do, simple as that.”
The language of inspectors:
Inspectors must move from saying “Why didn’t you…?” to “Why did you do it like that?”, “What impact is that having?”, “What is the reasoning…?”
For example, if an inspector is in a school where learning objectives are never used, they should be asking why that is and listening to the response. A lack of learning objectives is not necessarily a bad thing.
Regarding schools who are not following the new framework:
There will be a ‘time lag’ for schools to catch up with the new criteria. If you look at the new inspection handbook regarding teaching, inspectors will now want to know why something is done. The narrative around why schools do stuff needs to be more than, “because that’s what Ofsted want”. The most important question should be, “Why are we doing this?”
Leaders should lead by example and teach: show that they can still do it.
(This issue was raised several times during the meeting.)
No one likes an inspector, but the people who complain the most are those who get the worst judgement. Inspection is an art, not a science. We need to move away from quality assurance of inspection reports and focus on the inspectors themselves. There must now be less reliance on guidance and more reliance on training. The relationship with inspectors will be improved by moving training in-house (centralising). But, inspection grade boundaries are so broad, it’s quite hard to get it wrong. There are some pretty glaring weaknesses in schools that need improvement. The data PLUS the ears and eyes of experienced inspectors makes it very difficult to get wrong.
I was particularly keen to raise the issue of the ‘Ofsted culture’, I made the point that schools are constantly trying to do what they think Ofsted want, and asked how on earth this could be stopped. This was the response:
By changing behaviour and habits. The new framework that is due to start on 1st September 2015 should mean that eight out of ten schools will no longer have routine inspections. For schools rated as ‘good’ or better, there will be NO full inspection. Instead, a HMI will visit every three years for a chat. They may talk to parents and pupils, they may look at books and data. SMT will be required to show inspectors that the kids are doing well. The only reason a full inspection would be triggered is if there had been drastic changes. When school management feel less pressure to be constantly ‘Ofsted ready’ then the culture will change.
I’m cautiously optimistic about this. It certainly does seem possible that SMT will feel less threatened by this. And in turn, perhaps, there will be less ‘Ofsted stress’ passed on to chalk face staff.
I would like to thank Mike Cladingbowl for a very interesting and open meeting. I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to hear his views, and to share my own. It was also great to meet other teachers from a variety of backgrounds and discuss how the issue of Ofsted affects them.
Please have your say about the important changes to the inspection process by completing the consultation document: here
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