A Plea to OFSTED

This week I tried my best to avoid blogging on the subject of internal lesson observations, I did think about several other things I could write about, but this subject is still so fresh in my mind at the current time that it has rather usurped other topics. Also it does kind of follow on from my last post, so forgive me.

On Tuesday 25th February I had my latest internal lesson observation. If you aren’t aware of the significance of this, may I suggest you glance through some of my other blogs. I have been driven to near insanity by this process; not least because I have had to sacrifice so many of my principles to achieve the ‘good’- “It was a solidly good lesson” – that I somehow managed this week.

I am, I admit, somewhat beaten-down by this whole process. Having said that, At 4am on Tuesday morning I was still trying to chip away – this time by sending a copy of Michael Cladingbowl’s recent advice for inspectors to my Area Manager. I’m fairly certain that she won’t see it otherwise. This is part of the problem. It often seems that we who engage with fellow professionals on social networking sites are more up to date with current educational thinking than the senior leaders who manage us. To date I’ve had no response to that email. Even so, it is very unlikely that anything I send them will make them change their minds about lesson observations.

My SLT remain stoically loyal to the conviction that they must see evidence of ALL of OFSTED’s whole-school criteria in every single 45 minute observed lesson. The OFSTED criteria, which we now know for sure should never have been applied to individual lessons. This is doubly poignant as we now also learn that OFSTED inspectors have not (or shouldn’t have) been grading individual lessons since 2009.

Back to my observation lesson: Each half term we have a new cross-curricular theme. I have to say that I do quite like this idea. I enjoy planning my lessons around a theme, and maybe discussing with colleagues how my ideas fit in with, and complement their own plans. This half term’s theme is ‘Enterprise and Economy’ A bit of a tough-call for English. My plan was to do a short series of lessons (maybe 3 or 4 per year group) on the topic of advertising focusing on the persuasive, imperative and emotive language involved. For our year 6 pupils the majority of the half-term would be spent practising spelling, grammar and unseen reading test techniques in preparation for their upcoming SATs tests.

When I learned that my observation was to be with a year 6 group, part of me wishes I’d have dared to deliver a ‘chalk and talk’ grammar lesson, but I just couldn’t risk such folly. How could I ever have ticked the observation tick-boxes that way? The sad truth of the matter is that I couldn’t have. I’d have been destroyed and denigrated were I to have delivered the stuff that these kids really need. Therefore, the stuff that would enable them to jump through a SATs hoop, to give them a National Curriculum level that might prove them as worthy as their mainstream compatriots, would not be good enough for an observed lesson. Sometimes the world is an ironic place.

So instead I planned a lesson that fitted in with our theme:

I began with a ‘starter task’, displaying a variety of internationally famous logos on the interactive whiteboard, and the Teaching Assistant then led a discussion about which logos the pupils recognised; pupils then looked around the classroom for other logos and wrote them on post-it notes. The next task required the pupils to glue various statements on to a piece of card – an ‘independent’ (of me) group task, where they had to discuss their feelings about adverts and the effects that they have. Following this there was an interactive task, involving discussion around the ways that particular adverts (I chose McDonalds and iPhone) can be made to seem appealing, and the techniques that advertisers use to achieve that. Finally, I ended with a plenary where I showed the Cadbury gorilla advert and encouraged the pupils to consider how this broke the rules of advertising.

All well and good, but culturally starved and extremely light on academic content, also, I’m not sure what I can say they actually learnt. One thing I can say is that it ticked an awful lot of observation criteria boxes for me. I was determined not to be caught out by that again.

This is the level of amorality I’m driven to. It is painful for me to know that I have delivered an entirely different lesson than I would otherwise dream of doing, simply because I was being observed. As the content bore very little resemblance to my usual lesson fare, I have to conclude that monkey-dances and smoke and mirrors are still very much in vogue. The lesson was full to the brim with things being done mainly for effect – for a show. No questions, concern, or regard from the observers as to what the point of it all was. How can it possibly be right that I have achieved a ‘solidly good’ rating for a lesson which I know is more academically lightweight than I would otherwise have delivered?

Here is what Michael Cladingbowl (National Director, Schools) had to say just last week on this very matter,

‘I was speaking to a colleague today, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors. He reminded me it is all about outcomes and that it does work both ways. In a classroom he was in recently, a teacher produced, literally, an all-singing, all-dancing lesson. There was music, comedy, costumes, games, ‘thinking hats’, and all with clear objectives on the whiteboard. He recorded a teaching quality grade of inadequate. Not because of the ‘performance’ on the day but because students’ graffiti-strewn books hadn’t been marked for six months and work was shoddy or incomplete. In contrast, he graded teaching as outstanding in a classroom where students sat reading in silence because of the exceptional quality of students’ work and the teacher’s marking in exercise books. He told both teachers what his conclusions were.’

When are our schools going to start listening?

For my own part, I was so ungraciously foul in my observation feedback session that one of the managers came to see me later at 4.30pm to check that I realised I’d been graded as good. He said, “Are you okay? You do realise you got ‘good’? I thought you’d be happy with that.” To which I replied, “I’m extremely unhappy that any of us are defined in this way.”

I understand that OFSTED feel it is not their place to instruct schools on matters of quality control or performance management, and I can see their reasoning. However, it is worthwhile pointing out again that many schools spend a disproportionate amount of time doing the things that they think OFSTED will want to see. In effect, they are emulating what they expect that inspectors will do, by way of practice or preparation for an inspection. Much of the data they gather around teaching and learning isn’t for internal purposes at all. It exists so that it can be shown to OFSTED. In short, schools do the things that they think OFSTED will want (or expect) to see evidence of them doing.

With this in mind, I would like to request that OFSTED or the DfE release some sort of guidance for schools regarding internal lesson observations. This guidance need not be overly prescriptive. In fact, it could just take the form of a statement pointing out that there is no need for teachers to reference all of OFSTED’s teaching and learning criteria in every lesson. Maybe a suggestion that a grade is not helpful, or representative, unless other factors are also taken into account? Some comments about there being no preferred teaching style or lesson structure would also be very welcome. It would also be handy if it could be made clear that ‘teacher talk’ is not necessarily a bad thing.

Incredible though it may seem, the hocus-pocus myths still prevail in many schools. Without some sort of statement spelling it out, managers will continue to plough the furrows that they think will yield the biggest crop of OFSTED brownie-points. They can hardly be blamed for this, as it is this that their school’s entire reputation rests upon. Schools are only as good as their last OFSTED report. I often liken OFSTED’s influence over schools to being a bit like being in love. The day to day mundanities of life go on – but they are never very far from our thoughts, no matter how hard we try. Only if OFSTED accept the extraordinary influence they have over schools, can they then take steps to ensure this influence is a positive one.

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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20 Responses to A Plea to OFSTED

  1. bronzapunk says:

    Reblogged this on My 'teaching' Blog and commented:
    How ironic, considering my head quoted this self same ‘claddingbowl’ advice to me in an email this week!

    Still, congrats…(I think)


  2. ChrisN says:

    I very much sympathise with the content of this post, but you might want to note that it would be complement, not compliment for the usage you have made here.


  3. Adventure Travel Shop says:

    ChrisN once a teacher always a teacher! Can’t resist it can you 😦 Good article Cazzypot2013


  4. chrishildrew says:

    Depressing but valuable read as ever, @cazzypot. Unfortunately I can’t see Ofsted issuing the guidance you’re asking for, since the position you’re asking them to clarify is already abundantly clear on page 39 of the Ofsted handbook – and has been for years. It’s no comfort to you, I know, that the fault lies in SLT interpretation of Ofsted criteria, rather than the criteria themselves.


  5. Jane Street says:

    I am not a teacher, but my niece is. She was rated as good, but not excellent. Because she was not exciting enough. In a class of 5 year olds. Previous feedback had commended her calm style.
    Too much tail wagging the dog.

    Excellent blog.


  6. Ian says:

    excellent summary and sums up the frustrations of many.myself included.


  7. I believe anyone with a modicum of common sense would agree with you. But, no one voices those opinions without being labelled a militant. I’ve only been a Carpentry lecturer 17 months with 8 observations (DTTLS) and 2 graded. I always get a ‘Good’ because during those lessons I teach to the ‘Observation Criteria.’ The rest of the time I teach Carpentry. My lads are a nightmare ( having been a juvenile myself I would be worried if they weren’t 😉 but, when we have an observation they are perfect. So, even students know how to play the game. I find the observation a joke to be honest. No different to squaddies painting the grass green on a royal visit to the Army camp.


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