On Friday 29th August I went to Manchester to meet with Mike Cladingbowl from Ofsted. Earlier this year I attended a meeting with the DfE so I was pleased to be able to attend this meeting. I feel as though I’ve managed to put my opinions across re education now. 

I was accompanied by a fabulous gang of fellow tweeters, in no particular order they were @Mishwood1, @LeadingLearner, @chrismcd53, @jordyjax, @debrakidd, @rosederbyshire and @thought_weavers. 

I can’t mention everything we discussed or the blog would be 10 pages long so I’ll pick out the parts I was the most interested in. In particular I will omit the discussion on PRUs as @jordyjax will blog about that. I bow to her expertise in that area. 

Firstly I would like to thank Mike for giving us 3 hours of his undivided attention. He made us feel that our opinions were important to him. He actually listened to us. As @heymisssmith has pointed out, this was in stark contrast to Liz Truss at the DfE meeting. 

I’ll begin with the most important part of the meeting for me, assessing without levels. I told Mike that we couldn’t leave without an answer to this question as so many people had asked for the information. Mike’s answer was that inspectors will look at the school’s curriculum, what exactly are you trying to teach them. Years 2 and 6 as we know will be the same as pre the changes. In Primary schools there will be the scaled scores and from there we can work backwards to decide the knowledge children should attain by the end of each year. This didn’t entirely answer my question because I wanted to know how a school being inspected in this coming academic year could show progress from last year. Mike seemed unconcerned about this and said that schools should develop a good relationship with inspectors and be able to explain with clarity how they know their system is working. Inspectors will look at books, talk to students and observe but not grade lessons. For Mike this was all very simple. As a data leader I remain unconvinced. 

A further part of the meeting concerned consistency between inspection teams. As a group we were all very concerned about this. Mike wasn’t. He actually said that he wants teams to be inconsistent! At this point I almost fell off my chair. Surely not! He went on to explain that if that meant that inspectors recognise that each school is unique and has different needs then so be it. But, he said, there is a line. ‘Good’ is a construct and we need some agreement as to what constitutes ‘good’. Mike said there are 2.3 million children in 6000 schools receiving a mediocre education for several years and this is not acceptable. When you put it like that he’s right. He continued by saying that he wants inspectors to use their common sense. Data is king, we all know this but it doesn’t tell the full story. There is more to a school than data and awarding a judgement based only on data is wrong. Common sense must be used and that’s where inconsistency comes in. Inspectors must take other factors in to account. This is good news, especially for special schools as it isn’t always possible to show sustained progress for some of our poorly children. 

There was also some discussion around SLT and HTs. I was keen to tell Mike that teachers are sometimes asked to do some rather onerous tasks all in the name of gathering evidence for Ofsted. It is very difficult for a classroom teacher to stand up to their managers even when they know what they are being asked to do is wrong. Mike said that teachers need to be more confident with their heads. Using Ofsted as a legitimising tactic is pretty weak and they shouldn’t be doing it. He condemned the whole Mocksteds, learning walks and Ofsted preparation rather scathingly. Schools are making it too complicated, teach them and they learn he said. 

So what does the future of Ofsted look like? We discussed ‘no notice’ inspections. Personally, I’m not too worried about that but I do have a concern over the paperwork and the fact that schools would have to be ever ready. However, we only get half a day now so I’m not sure that matters. Mike said they will consult on that. 

There are also plans to use the teaching unions to get Ofsted’s message across. This will help with SLT using Ofsted as a lever. Teachers will have guidance from their unions. 

Mike then told us about the plans for ‘good’ schools. I’m pretty sure this is widely known so I’ll be brief. The proposal is to visit ‘good’ schools every 3 years, talk to the head teacher, visit classes and look at data. They will then send home a letter to parents informing them that the school continues to be good. I asked how this would work for ‘outstanding’ schools. My own school is 3 times outstanding but as a special school we aren’t exempt from Ofsted. The 3 year rule will also apply to outstanding schools apparently. Mike assured me that this will be a much lighter touch than a full inspection but it still feels like a backward step to me for outstanding schools. Sorry to be negative. 

Lastly, I would like to thank Mike and my fellow tweeters for a very productive meeting. I came away yesterday with the distinct impression that Mike is on our side. He knows the fear that schools have surrounding Ofsted and wants to change that. I hope he is able to achieve this. 

I would also like to thank him for the delicious M&S chocolate biscuits which he nipped off to buy. How’s that for making us feel special. 

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