‘Leadership is key in any school. We need to look at what’s being asked of teachers and assess the effectiveness.’
(Sean Harford – Ofsted’s National Director for Schools Policy and ITE, and Regional Director, East of England)
Tomorrow, (31st July 2014) Ofsted HQ are due to release an updated version of their handbook for inspectors. I imagine this is partly because of ambiguities in earlier editions that led to the unfortunate proliferation of out-dated (sometimes damaging) ideals. Hopefully, the clarity of this new guidance should halt such bad practice among inspectors. I think the clued-up school leader needs to pay heed to this new handbook, as the ramifications could prove significant for us all.
Sean Harford (@HarfordSean) the new National Director for Schools Policy, has shared some key quotes and information from the updated handbook on Twitter. It is this information that has enabled me to put this post together.
It’s an open secret that many schools try, in their day to day practice, to mirror what they think Ofsted will want to see. After all, a good or outstanding rating from Ofsted is coveted by schools as the ultimate measure of success. If leadership teams choose to emulate updated Ofsted good practice, I think it’s just possible that the old methods of judging teaching could (and should!) finally disappear for good.
The Inspectors’ handbook will say this:
‘Inspectors should not grade the quality of teaching in individual lesson observations, learning walks or equivalent activities’
As Ofsted (officially) no longer grade individual lessons, it may prove difficult for schools to justify continuing with this process. Indeed, a visiting inspector could now query how it is possible for schools to accurately grade teachers based on evidence from a single observation — or even a series of observations.
Instead, they may expect schools to show evidence of the cumulative effects of individual teachers. They might expect leaders to have taken account of a number of factors before forming an opinion: books, results, displays, behaviour, data etc, all might play a part. Perhaps then, it may now be acceptable for schools to apply an overall grade for teaching and learning — but always based on evidence gathered over a significant period of time.
School leaders should now realise that lesson observations are only a tiny part of the whole picture. They aren’t even a truthful part. As so often cited, observations are a major source of stress and anxiety for teachers. This anxiety can manifest as symptoms akin to stage fright. The career-damaging stakes are often so high, that it’s possible the teacher being observed may under-perform – or at least behave differently to normal.
During observations and learning walks, it’s common for school leaders to express a preference for the equipment they’d like to see in use, or teaching methods they’d like to see employed. It’s important to carefully consider the effectiveness of these. What works well for one, may not necessarily work for all. The updated handbook has clearly been written with such thoughts in mind:
‘Ofsted does not favour any particular teaching style and inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style.’
‘Inspectors should not expect to see periods of pupils working on their own, or in groups, in all lessons, and should not make the assumption that this is always necessary, desirable or even effective…’
‘Not all aspects of learning, eg, pupils’ engagement, interest, concentration, determination, resilience and independence may be seen or should expect to be seen in a single observation.’
If school leaders express a preference for a particular teaching style or technique, they may be at odds with what works best for individual class teachers, and, in turn, their pupils. It’s now possible that leaders who ignore this guidance could also find themselves at odds with what Ofsted are now expecting to see.
It’s time for school leaders to allow their teachers flexibility: to let teachers make their own decisions about what to teach, and how. If there are any competency issues surrounding a particular teacher, a good leader will already be aware of these, and support systems will be in place. A perennial issue is that of teachers who are struggling to manage behaviour. Here, such support systems are crucial. A good leadership team will be providing consistent back up and ensuring that their school’s behaviour policy is up to date and being followed to the letter. Whatever the concerns may be, it’s unlikely that a snapshot lesson observation is required to spot these.
The new handbook neatly surmises successful practice thus:
‘Do teachers command the respect of their classes, set out clear expectations for pupils’ behaviour in line with the direction set by school leaders, start and finish lessons on time, and manage teaching resources effectively?’
This is the skeleton —the bare bones of all teaching. On this the flesh of a whole host of successful lessons can be hung. Beyond these simple guidelines, perhaps there is nothing much else worth looking for? In the end, the results of the pupils will tell their own story.
School leaders: please stop grading individual, snap-shot, lessons. Instead, look at the bigger picture — the whole picture, when judging the quality of teaching and learning. After all, Michaelangelo’s iconic masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would look far less impressive if we only ever focused in on Adam’s big toe.
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