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.
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,
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.
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.
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?
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.
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