Ofsted – carrying on regardless

You may be aware that I recently had a mishap. For those of you who don’t already know the details, six weeks ago I fell down the stairs. Despite only falling down the last three stairs, I managed to break both legs: one fracture to my left ankle and four fractures to my right leg – including a broken heel. Having spent four (long) weeks in hospital, I am, thankfully, back at home now. I have a comfortable bedroom in our lounge, and am managing a lot better than I expected to (with a LOT of help from my long-suffering partner!) The main benefit of being back home is that I can spend time with my children (aged two and seven). We can read books, sing songs…and of course there are the many wonders on ‘Netflix Kids’ to explore! Although I still can’t put any weight on either leg, I am looking forward to having at least one of my plasters off soon, hopefully then I can begin some form of physiotherapy, and perhaps begin using crutches to mobilise.


Still, they do say that every cloud has a silver lining. In my case, I’m afraid I couldn’t help but think of this almost two weeks ago when my job share partner sent me a text message to tell me that Ofsted were coming in the next day.

That evening I spoke to my job share partner, and surmised that the staff were in the throes of the planning and preparation panic that only a visit from OFSTED can inspire. Although I felt a pang of guilt, to say I was pleased to be well out of it may just be an understatement. The only thing I could do was offer a few words of moral support and encouragement. Late that night I sent a final text message to my colleague:

“I’ll be thinking of you…Remember: they shouldn’t be giving you a grade!”

“That’s great news,” she replied.

M Cladingbowl

Now, I have mentioned before that teachers who engage on social media, such as Twitter, often seem to be much better informed, especially regarding the latest guidance from the DfE and Ofsted. With this in mind, sadly, it came as no surprise to hear that my colleague had no idea that Ofsted inspectors shouldn’t be grading individual lessons, or offering unsolicited feedback. Neither was she aware that any feedback given should be confidential, and only shared at the discretion of the teacher. To clarify all this I sent her a link to Michael Cladingbowl’s advice for inspectors document, in which he said:

‘Inspectors should not give an overall grade for the lesson and nor should teachers expect one. If asked, inspectors will provide feedback to individuals on what they have observed, including the evidence they have gathered about teaching. They can share the grade for the evidence gathered about teaching, or other aspects, with an individual teacher.’

And he concluded with this:

‘On average, inspectors may spend only 25 minutes or so in each lesson. It would be nonsensical to suggest that an Ofsted inspector could give a definitive validation of a teacher’s professional competency in such a short time. We are not in the business of handing out badges that say “You are an outstanding teacher” or the opposite. We leave that to others, who will use their own and other evidence to come to a conclusion. We would not expect any other professional, for example a surgeon, to be judged by peers on a single 25 minute observation of their work.’

(From ‘Why do Ofsted inspectors observe individual lessons and how do they evaluate teaching in schools?’ 21st February 2014)

The following evening, therefore, I was surprised to receive a text from my colleague, which simply read,

‘Requires Improvement’

So she had been given a grade for her lesson, after all. During a lengthy phone-call with her, the details became clear. The inspector had been in to watch 25 minutes of a Drama lesson. Afterwards, she neither offered, nor gave a grade or feedback to my colleague. But what she did do, it seems to me, completely flouted the guidelines as outlined so clearly by Michael Cladingbowl (above).


Following the observation the Ofsted inspector met with our centre manager. During this meeting she outlined the criticisms that she had of the lesson, AND told the manager a grade for the lesson (‘requires improvement’). She then left the feedback form with the manager, who subsequently shared all of the information with my colleague.

Criticisms of the 25 minute observation included things such as:

  • Not enough separate activities, therefore not enough pace.
  • Not enough pupil talk.
  • No AFL target visible.
  • A (bizarre?) query over whether the (Drama) lesson was a Speaking and Listening task.

It goes without saying, perhaps, that my colleague was very distressed by all of this. She also felt that the criticisms were unhelpful, personal and inaccurate:

  • There were 5 activities planned, the inspector didn’t see all of these, but the pupils were apparently engaged in the activities that she did observe. Surely it is for the class teacher to determine when (and if) to move on from a task? If a particular activity is successful and pupils are learning, why be pressured to move on? Surely the days of Ofsted trying to dictate lesson content, pace and style are now gone?
  • The pupils weren’t speaking much during the part of the lesson that was watched, due to the nature of the activity. BUT spoke a lot (as planned) in the latter part of the lesson – which was after the inspector had left. As Mr Cladingbowl states, it is impossible to validate everything in a 25 minute observation. This is a perfect example of this: my colleague was criticised because the inspector didn’t happen to see evidence of something that they wanted to see, in the part of the lesson they happened to be in. How can this possibly be a valid criticism?
  • As it was a Drama lesson clearly it was a ‘Speaking and Listening’ task, by its very nature. The fact that neither this, nor the AFL target were displayed anywhere does not negate their existence, surely?

To make matters worse, our Centre Manager also went on to suggest to my colleague that she should have delivered an English lesson for the inspector, as that was, “what she wanted to see”. As she always delivers Drama in that timetable slot, my colleague queried this, asking if we, as teachers, should really feel pressured into changing what we normally do because of an inspection? In addition to this, my colleague also expressed some (probably very valid) concerns regarding the implications of this grading on her future career.

Teacher observation

Despairing, and feeling quite impotent, that same evening I decided to outline some of these events to Michael Cladingbowl, on Twitter. I have to say, his response was very swift. He asked me to message him privately with details, which I did. He then promised to follow it up personally. I don’t expect that I’ll be privy to the outcome of this, but nonetheless, I think it is of some comfort to have a point of contact with whom we can raise such issues.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw-1459138

There is no doubt that Sir Michael Wilshaw and Michael Cladingbowl are trying to move Ofsted in the right direction and I think most of the new guidelines for inspectors make a lot of sense. To look at teaching and learning across the whole school and focus more on results, rather than what individual teachers are doing to achieve this, is certainly to be welcomed. In line with this, many teachers are also relieved that they should no longer face criticism of the style or structure of their lessons. However, this change will only take place if each and every inspector follows their own guidelines. Every single time an inspector flouts theses rules, the credibility of OFSTED, as an organisation, is undermined just a little bit more. An army that ignores the orders of the generals is certain to be an army in disarray, and a straw house, even when built on the strongest of foundations, surely won’t stand for long?

Educating Yorkshire: teacher Matthew Burton reads to his class

I would be very interested to hear if you have been offered either a grade or feedback (or both!) by an Ofsted inspector, without requesting it. Please add your story to the comments box (below), or contact me on Twitter. Thank you.

*NB: my job share partner has read and approved this blog.

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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34 Responses to Ofsted – carrying on regardless

  1. Sian Bloor says:

    Yes my friends school was done last week and they got grades and feedback because SLT had asked OFSTED to do this as part of their mid term review.


  2. It took a while to get over the fact that you fell down only 3 steps, yet broke both legs (badly, by the sound of it)…….almost wished I hadn’t read further. What a croc (1980s film reference). I cannot see that Ofsted can make the cultural changes that would be needed just to implement what Mr W has laid out as policy now. And whilst they fail to do that, teachers suffer from the contradictions. The only saving grace here, is that Ofsted judgements of individual teachers are so discredited that this episode should not have any long lasting negative professional effects on your colleague. But it won’t feel like that for a while. The accountability structure should encourage and empower teachers to progress in their effectiveness, not arbitrarily devastate them.


    • cazzypot2013 says:

      I agree with you, it does seem like the changes are often being ignored. Also agree that the Ofsted brand is becoming increasingly tarnished and discredited. Thank you for your great comment!


  3. We are due any time and schools around us which have been done in the last few months; all have been given grades. As a direct result of being well informed through Twitter as an SLT we have agreed that if/ when visited we will instruct inspectors not to grade any lesson.


  4. bt0558 says:

    Absolutely unbelievable. Great that you had access to Michael Cladingbowl who was able to do something. Is he someone to whom anyone can send details of lapses of process on the part of Ofsted?

    Well done Cazzypot


  5. Agw31 says:

    We had ofsted a few months ago and the lead inspector was very up to date about not grading individual lessons. She came in to see the last 15 mins of my phonics lesson as a joint obs with the head. All smiles and at break time my head told me I should be happy and it had gone well. At lunchtime I was preparing for the afternoon lessons and the inspector came to find me saying she thought I might want some feedback. I hadn’t been planning on going in search for feedback but similarly had no problem hearing it. She told me something along the lines of “I’m not supposed to give graded feedback on individual lessons or grade individual teachers’ performance however the progress of learning in the lesson portion I saw was good.” I was obviously happy that she thought this, but actually I think if she had just given me the feedback without the grade I would have taken the things I needed to improve on board more. The grade just made me think, oh that was fine and I don’t have to worry about my phonics teaching (whereas actually I do because there is always improvements to be made!)


    • cazzypot2013 says:

      It sounds like you feel it was a positive experience, overall? If so, that’s very good news. The inspector you had at least sounds as if they were up to date with the latest guidelines.


      • Agw31 says:

        My personal experience was positive however I have no qualms in saying that this was due to my good grade and actually I feel it would have been more constructive for my teaching to just get feedback (things that were good, ideas for improvement and how to achieve this) without the label of a grade. Having had other observations away from ofsted that were ‘requires improvement’ I know how devastating hearing those words is. Similarly a colleague who was given a requires improvement grade for ‘the progress in the lesson portion’ that the inspector told was devastated and is still in the process of getting over that, which hasn’t led to massive improvements in her teaching but rather a lack of confidence. I just think grades aren’t necessary generally.


  6. Michelle Groucutt says:

    My old school had Ofsted in January. Everyone got observed and everyone had a lesson grade and feedback.


  7. Michelle Groucutt says:

    My old school had Ofsted in January this year. We all got observed and all received a lesson grade and feedback.


    • cazzypot2013 says:

      That certainly shouldn’t have happened. How did you feel about that at the time? Were you aware of the new guidelines re no grades etc? Thank you for your response.


      • Michelle Groucutt says:

        I had no idea about the new guidelines so just presumed it was the normal Ofsted way. At the time I was obviously nervous but the inspectors were very friendly and constructive, even if they weren’t supposed to be doing it!


  8. We have recently been inspected and were in the odd situation of having one inspector not grading but the others were. Most peculiar. He was in lessons for the same length of time as the others.


  9. We were inspected recently and something odd happened. One inspector didn’t grade lessons he visited for 25 mins (explicitly; he was asked for one). But the others all did grade and give graded feedback. As I said, odd.


  10. cazzypot2013 says:

    In some ways that’s even worse…if the team are all doing different things, where is the continuity? Begs the question: do they even talk to each other?? Thanks for your response, much appreciated.


  11. Toby says:

    Reblogged this on Speaker's Corner.


  12. vicki says:

    My last inspection we were all given grades, small Manchester primary, inspection just before Christmas 2013 so not long ago!


  13. Pingback: Ofsted inspectors continue to do whatever they like | David Didau: The Learning Spy

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  15. Good to hear you’re on the mend.

    Have added your blog posting to my thread on Ofsted and lesson observations.

    Many thanks as always.




  16. Keia says:

    My school just got OFSTED in, people got feedback and a grade – though they had to go and see the inspector, but from what I gather even if they go and ask for info they shouldn’t be graded right? Nonetheless everyone was sharing if they had had an outstanding for example.


  17. cazzypot2013 says:

    Even the feedback is supposed to be voluntary! Teachers are (officially, anyway!) asked not to ask the inspector for a grade. The grade for teaching is only offered in exceptional circumstances, I think. An individual lesson is never supposed to be graded (ie: books, results etc all count towards grade). Thank you so much for adding your story, very much appreciated.


  18. Queenie says:

    We had Ofsted Sept ’13. The DH gave feedback with Inspector present , staff received very negative feedback from DH. The inspector merely took notes and remained silent, the silence led us to believe that the inspector had conferred with the DH and had graded lessons as the DH did. Books etc were checked for further evidence. We finally received grade of Good. I assume that the quality of our teaching, marking etc was proven by the children’s work in the books. Teachers were left with terribly low morale, if we had known about grading I am sure we would have felt better. Four out five teachers have left or are leaving Aug 31st-the fifth being the DH.


  19. cazzypot2013 says:

    Thank you very much for your comment. Very interesting to read about the experiences of others.


  20. Pingback: 2014: Top 5 blogs. | cazzypotsblog

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