What I learned from my visit to Ofsted
Before reporting on my impressions of the conversation Tom “behaviour guru” Bennett, Ross “the most followed teacher in the UK” McGill, Sheena “Clerk to Governor” Lewington, Tom “head guru” Sherrington and I had with Ofsted’s Director of Schools, Mike Cladingbowl, I first need to make a few things clear.
I blog about education in no capacity other than as an individual. I am beholden to no one. I have no constituency. I represent no one other than myself, and I am in no way an ambassador for the teaching profession. That said, I’ve been writing about education for almost three years and have built up something of an audience both on my blog and on Twitter. I recognise that I have influence and that brings with it a certain amount of responsibility. I try to take this responsibility seriously, but in the end I’m just a blogger with a big gob and a certain way with words. I see it as important to express my opinion and stand up for the things that I believe in. Inevitably this will upset some people. I can live with that.
So, when we were seated round the big table, Mike began by asking each of us what we were interested in discussing. Sheena said school governance and performance related pay. Tom Bennett said behaviour. Ross said communication. I said lesson observation and the role of additional inspectors acting as consultants. For those who have followed our blogs, these interests won’t have caused much in the way of raised eyebrows. (Tom S was late arriving due to being at another meeting and didn’t get to say what his particular interest was but he got happily stuck into everything which, I think, tells us a lot about his interests.)
The first thing to say is that Cladingbowl seems like an utterly reasonable man who is firmly on the side of common sense. He was refreshingly direct and, at times, reflected that he “probably shouldn’t have said that.” A man after my own heart. Standout one liner: “Anyone pedalling snake oil should be made to drink it.”
His main concern was how best Ofsted as an organisation could dispel the myths which cling to inspection. He condemned ‘mocksteds’ as unnecessary and missing the point. What child has ever benefited from a mock-inspection? We spoke about the fact that updates to guidance need to more streamlined and more clearly sign-posted, not snuck out a few days before Christmas. We spoke about the need for greater clarity when Ofsted make revisions to guidance with changes made clearly visible. And we spoke about ways Ofsted could better engage with social media and suggested an @AskOfsted Twitter account for teachers and school leaders to have concerns allayed and questions answered.
He bemoaned the fact that poor behaviour has become normalised and spoke repeatedly about ‘boiling a frog’, a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually. So gradual has our slide into the current ‘behaviour crisis’ been that we don’t know we’re in it. We discussed how the no notice, one day behaviour inspections can be used effectively to support schools. Tom Bennett pointed out that these inspections are to be effective, they must take into account the views of the silent majority of children, not just the oiks who experience the sharpness of a school’s teeth and they must also canvas the views of NQTs and supply teachers. The behaviour you experience can be very different depending on your status or tenure.
On the subject of lesson grading, he said, boldly, categorically and unequivocally that inspectors should not be grading individual lessons, and they should not be arriving at a judgment for teaching and learning by aggregating lesson grades. This is huge. I’ve gone on record as saying “Ofsted will no longer grade lessons with a maximum of three years.” I was wrong! Ofsted will no longer grade lesson as from now! And further: if schools experience an inspector who fails to tow this line he want to know about it. I told him about my encounter with a rogue inspector and he made it clear that he wants to reign in the excesses of additional inspectors who also work as consultants. The message was clear: if you hear an inspector advising teachers to teach in a particular way, he wants to hear about it.
I didn’t get the chance to bang my drum about the invalidity of lesson grading or repeat my ‘learning is invisible’ mantra, as all this rather took the wind out of my righteous sails. This is definitely a discussion I’d like to have in more detail if given the opportunity.
We chewed over the problems of performance related pay and how, in most schools, this has been tied to the grading of individual lessons. The oft made claim that the ‘requires improvement’ grade has raised standards was also challenged. Tom Sherrington reminded us that all teachers and all schools need to improve, no matter how good they are. Just confining improvement to those who don’t make the grade is a potential and troubling weakness in the system.
There’s a lot of work to be done. Only this morning Lead Inspector, Heather Leatt pointed out on Twitter that the guidance to inspectors is far from clear on the subject of lesson grading. Cladingbowl said that the pro forma used by inspectors does not include a space to make a judgement on individual lessons. Heather said that as far as she was concerned lesson grades appear to be required on EFs. Whilst there is guidance elsewhere which makes it clear this judgement is ‘over time’ the fact that there is a need to award this grade at all is highly misleading. Heather points out that many teachers just don’t believe that it’s not a grade for their lesson. This requires urgent clarification.
She also pointed out this section from the Inspection Handbook:
The obvious inference is that if inspectors must not argue that they are unable to give a particular grade because of time spent in a lesson, then they must be expected to give a grade. Heather’s point was that if she, as a Lead Inspector is confused, what hope is there for teachers and school leaders on the ground? Mike acknowledged the confusion and said that further amendment was needed and would be forthcoming.
This is all positive. Ofsted want to be better. They are listening. It’ll probably never be fun to be inspected but maybe, some day soon, they’ll no longer be the blight they have been.
We have tentatively agreed that a further meeting would be a positive step. Several of us raised the glaring absence of the education blogger most synonymous with holding Ofsted to account. Like Banquo’s ghost, Old Andrew palpably haunted the meeting somewhat. We were told that Ofsted were wary of engaging with anonymous bloggers but now that Andrew has revealed his secret identity in a recent Radio 4 interview maybe they can see their way clear to inviting him (and very possibly others) next time.
Also, the biscuits require improvement.
Ross McGill’s write-up: An edu-blogger mandate for @OfstedNews
Tom Bennett’s account: Meet the Fockers: Ofsted talks to the bloggers
The long view from Tom Sherrington: Meeting OfSTED: The Game has Changed
And finally… Sheena Lewington’s marvellously poetic summing up: The Journey of the Blogi