At the moment there is what you might call an Ofsted frenzy in education. The whole of the education sector is in fear of Ofsted. Our working lives are consumed by it. You can enter any staffroom in any school and someone will mention the inspectorate in relation to displays, environment and teaching in general. Most of us, if not all, are agreed that children should be at the centre of everything we do. The children, not Ofsted. The mantra from my HT is if there is no impact for the children, don’t do it!
To their credit Ofsted, with thanks to Mike Cladingbowl have taken huge steps to try and remove the fear factor and make Ofsted a more supportive process. Moves they have made include the removal of grading individual lessons and they are no longer seeking progress in a 20 minute lesson observation. They have also recommended well planned lessons rather than copious lesson plans. Ofsted have said they will talk to children and look in the books to find evidence of progress over time. All good news – or is it?
I met Mike Cladingbowl in August at one of the Social Media meetings he organised. I told him then that I didn’t think this would work to bring harmony between teachers and Ofsted and I still think this is true. There is one group of people who are arguably more scared of Ofsted than any other and this is Senior Leadership Teams. The reason for my view is that SLT are accountable for everything. All four judgements revert back to them. If your teaching and learning is not up to standard, SLT should have spotted it and put measures in place to improve it. If behaviour is poor, SLT should be on top of this and have whole school policies in place. If attainment is low, SLT should have spotted it and introduced interventions. CPD should be in place to lift the subject or the teacher’s knowledge. Leaders should be leading, developing things, moving things forward, not just maintaining things. So, in their efforts to improve things I think Ofsted have unwittingly made the situation worse in some schools. For example ‘Triple marking’ has been born. I have no first hand knowledge of this but teachers have told me it is very time consuming. Other schools have introduced marking which has to be completed in different colours to show feedback and feedback which has been acted upon by the children. There are now any number of variations of marking to show progress over time for Ofsted. I can’t help wondering if this is what Ofsted really want. Marking has turned in to the latest stick with which to beat a teacher. SLT mean well but I can’t help wondering if this is an over reaction.
Lesson plans are another thing. I have written before that a well planned lesson is not the same as a lesson plan. Some schools are still asking for them in advance of the lessons in order to show progress over time. Lesson grades, some SLT are simply ignoring this and continuing to grade. This is their right but is no help to the teachers. I gave all of these reasons to Mike at his meeting and his reply was to tell the meeting about the proposed new framework for September 2015. He hopes that this will improve things and calm the fears of SLT. I won’t go in to too much detail as you can read it here.
The basic idea is that schools deemed ‘good’ will be subjected to more frequent but shorter inspections from HMI. At the moment inspections for these schools is every 5 years. Sir Michael Wilshaw thinks this is too long to spot any decline or indeed any improvement. Shorter, more frequent inspections will keep parents much better informed. Mike said that HMI would talk to SLT, visit classes, look at data and then send a letter home to parents informing them of the judgement. I must say that I am a little cynical about this. I honestly cannot see how this will improve things. SLT will possibly be even more fearful if the judgement is coming every 3 years rather than every 5 years. Mike went to pains to stress that this would be a lighter touch. It still feels wrong to me. For an alternative, more optimistic view you can read @cazzypot’s blog here
After reading @cazzypot’s blog she and I had a flurry of tweets about ‘Outstanding’ schools and discussed the fact that they will still apparently be exempt from inspections. I realise I am probably alone in this but I have never felt that this is right. If 5 years is too long to spot any decline then how can we justify never inspecting certain schools. I have no axe to grind with this one. My own school is 3 times outstanding yet we are still subjected to regular inspections. Special schools continue to be inspected because we struggle to compare our data to other schools nationally. That is the theory. At this time Mike Cladingbowl tweeted that he would be interested to receive my views on the fact that Grade 1 specials are not exempt. My opinion is that Grade 1 Specials should be treated the same as Grade 1 Mainstreams. If data is the problem why are we not developing a national system for our most vulnerable children. There are some commercial packages on the market which Ofsted recommend and use to analyse our data. My own school uses one such system and it is very robust. I myself would be happy to help to develop a national scheme for analysing data for special children and I know several other special school educators who would like to see this happen. If this were to happen Outstanding special schools could also be exempt from inspections. This would bring us in line with our mainstream counterparts. That said, I still think that all schools should be accountable to Ofsted. Exemption for any school isn’t the answer in my opinion. A fair and consistent inspectorate built on helping schools to improve rather than built on fear is the way forward.