Five and a half years into my career, I’d never been inspected by Ofsted. On a gloomy February Monday, that changed… this post describes the inspection for me as a teacher and as a middle leader: what I did (and didn’t do), how Ofsted judged my lessons and my feelings about their judgments.
Monday (Day 0) – How did I prepare to be inspected?
We had appointed a new headteacher the preceding Friday, and were ready for a quiet end to the half term, a wish shattered by a brief lunchtime meeting. The tone was tense yet light; someone did say “This is the moment we’ve all been training for,” (but it was me). I taught period 5, then began reviewing my plans for the next two days, joining the Acting Head while she updated the SEF and crunched data for a bit of mutual support. I wandered around the school a couple of times to check on colleagues, whose responses varied from deadly focused (marking a hundred folders in two hours) through resigned (quietly updating work) to distraught (tears).
I didn’t change my plans, just prepared the material to go with them that I hoped would explain what I was doing. I don’t write lesson plans normally, so rather than create unnecessary work, I annotate my powerpoints for observations (no promises this is good practice, although a SIP once told me it was – here‘s an example). I also printed out my department handbook and all my blogs (with cross-references in the lesson notes to relevant posts). There was pizza at six, I left for home after eight, by which time about half my colleagues had gone (some to continue working). My social plans had collapsed (my intended dinner guests were two fellow teachers), so I watched an episode of The Bridge then got seven hours sleep.
Tuesday (Day 1) – How did the first observation go?
The First Day – Tuesday
Some of my colleagues had barely slept, but my investment in a good night was offset by the stress of a puncture on the way to work, although I managed perhaps my fastest wheel change ever.
8.15 The inspectors met with teachers briefly, in an apparent attempt to provide reassurance: ‘we’re here to help you improve…’ but declaring, ominously, that the limited data available to newly-opened schools left the onus upon us to prove our success, not them to disprove it.
Period 1: Teaching a Year 7 group whose last lesson had been staged and abbreviated to be observed for our headteacher interviews, I felt obliged to skip the consolidation lesson I’d planned in favour of the next ‘proper’ lesson. (This was the only lesson I changed for the inspection). No one came, but teaching this brilliant class helped me settle into the day.
Period 2: Slightly to my surprise, we proceeded with a theatre performance from an external group on sexual exploitation for Year 8. It was very well done (and gave me a period to plan for the next day).
Period 4: The Assistant Head and Lead Inspector entered my class about five minutes into the lesson. I felt far calmer than I’d expected as I tried to concentrate simultaneously on offering the inspector all the lesson paperwork and maintaining the discussion I was leading. This was a class in which many students’ effort often fell below what I’d wish for; I’d been focusing on controlling lessons very closely since January to manage this – something they did not like but which had led them to begin working harder.
We were in the process of examining a series of example paragraphs for the essay students would be drafting in the next lesson. I choose students to speak at random using ‘lollipop sticks’ and the last thing I intended to do was change this. However, some of the students I called upon offered weak answers to my questions as their lack of effort on last term’s essay led them to struggle to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the models I’d offered.
Meanwhile, I watched the inspector pick up three folders – quite how he’d homed in on three students whose attitude and effort left the most to be desired I’m unclear (it wasn’t obvious from their behaviour as I’d been busy implementing Doug Lemov techniques to keep everyone focused). I’d checked all of the folders (which contain all of the year’s history work) recently and for all three individuals I’d asked them to reorder the work which was out of place and improve their presentation. For one individual, I’d made the same check five times to ensure this was done, finally, despairingly, annotating the folder’s checking sheet thus: ‘I have sorted this out for X, removed unacceptable work and instructed him to rewrite his timeline.’ The damage was done by the first couple of folders, however; by the fourth folder (one of the best examples in the class), the inspector barely glanced beyond the first page. The assistant head noted afterwards “That was unlucky – I was looking at X’s folder and it was absolutely perfect.” The questioning done and models examined, I had students begin planning the essay they would write next lesson. At this point, the inspector moved on (asking if he could take my blog with him).
I wasn’t seen for the rest of the day. I tried to get feedback – more to find out what they were looking for than because I was interested personally – but the inspectors were busy. Middle leaders met the acting head at six, who explained the priorities going into Day 2- it sounded like the inspection was proving an uphill struggle. However, few of the key issues were once over which I had much influence beyond what I had already done. I stayed until eight again, finishing all my planning for the next day. Recognising that my abstention the night before had done nothing to improve the observation, I allowed myself a couple of glasses of wine before bed.
Wednesday (Day 2) – How did the second observation go?
Although I had a free period 1, I’d finished everything the night before – so sat having a fairly depressing conversation with two colleagues about the inspectors’ foibles and findings so far.
Period 2: The Additional Inspector entered my room shortly after the lesson began. This Year 7 class has the greatest diversity of student needs in the school… but all the cards that had fallen poorly on Day 1 landed better than I could have hoped. For the very tricky starter, the two students with the greatest additional needs in the room came up with stunning points – one had had TA support; exactly where the other had magicked his idea from I have no idea.
Students were completing their preparation of speeches as different Greek mathematicians – they were working hard and coming up with some excellent points. The inspector looked at half a dozen folders – and I was a little more presentational, using a point at which students were working to grab a folder and ask what he wanted to see. He asked how I was assessing students (a question the annotations to the lesson plan answered) – and I showed him I was marking every book, every lesson… As he left, he said: “There seems to be lots of writing in your folders…” Well, yes. When I asked, he said there would be no time for feedback later.
Lunchtime: Nothing ices the cake of a five period day like a middle leaders’ meeting with the Lead Inspector. He seemed uninterested in the most contentious topics of the inspection, asking a number of questions about CPD, coordination and management structures – the depth, thought and pride of my colleagues’ answered was latent in every response – but he seemed to be taking what he heard with a pinch of salt. At one point, he asked something along the lines: What will happen if you reach full scale at the school? For a school which has twice been over six times oversubscribed, I would hope that this is not open to question.
Afternoon: Two Year 8 classes were writing the first drafts of their essays independently (and unvisited).
End of the day: I waited until the staff meeting at the end of the day, doing nothing particularly useful – then went out to meet a friend.
So, as an individual, at the end of the second day, I felt… I’d worked very hard, but in a sense it hadn’t been too stressful as a teacher. Everything I would normally have done apart from planning and teaching I’d dropped. I’d received no feedback and barely spoken to the inspection as a middle leader in a non-core subject I appeared to have little to offer. I hadn’t learned anything from the experienced, having received no feedback- but so be it, I was no worse off.
Day 22 – What did Ofsted think of my teaching?
By applying to Ofsted (the process is explained here), I was able to receive my lesson observation forms. Since I’m trying to be as open and as honest as I can about my teaching – here they are, with a few notes of my own afterwards.
Day 1 observation:
Some thoughts – Day 1:
– I’m not convinced examining three folders represents a fair sample of a class’s work (particularly when the choice appeared arbitrary and did not reflect a span of prior attainment or gender. I don’t say this to excuse the poor state of some of the folders (or, arguably, a few students’ lack of effort or will to maintain them as they should be), merely to question the process.
– I’m a little surprised by the implied assertion that students should be able to get all the answers in a discussion correct. If I’m asking questions to all students and they are being challenged, it is likely that some of them will get answers wrong some of the time. This is particularly the case when teaching something that I have spent many hours trying to help Year 13 students to master.
– I’m not convinced that this reflects ‘progress over time.’ One of the criticisms (also evident in the report) is the lack of writing done. What the lesson plan (and blogs attached) made clear, was that the very next lesson, students would be drafting their essay, then redrafting it response to feedback. (By this stage, therefore, many more of the ‘answers’ would, I’d expect, be correct.
– The lesson is graded.
Some thoughts – Day 2:
– I’m not clear about the rationale for suggesting roles for the speech preparation – as the lesson notes indicated, all students had a different aspect of their mathematician’s career/life to study.
– I also find the idea of letting students loose researching online a little bizarre (the resources available for Year 7 students on Greek mathematicians are exceptionally limited and I have spent a great deal of time tailoring what exists for my students).
– It is surprising that, on Day 2, the fact that my ‘detailed contextual information’ does not include levels should still be worthy of comment, given that school policy is not to use levels.
– 90% of what was available to this inspector was available to the previous one, so comments such as ‘teachers’ prep and planning excellent including blog on how he aims to improve teaching in his classroom and beyond’ are presumably relevant to either both lessons or to neither.
– At the bottom, it says ‘F/B? NR’ I’m guessing, but does this mean ‘feedback was not requested?’ It was.
– The lesson is graded.
Reflecting on being inspected as an individual, I feel…
I’ll return to this in Parts IV and V of this series, but I think the most significant point that sticks with me is that the judgments teachers receive from Ofsted observations appear to be pretty subjective, relying more on luck and the opinions of inspectors than in objectively discernible qualities of a teacher’s lessons. Nothing distinguishes the way I teach my Year 7’s from those of my Year 8’s – I employ identical techniques in pursuit of the same ends. I wonder if the gap between the judgments the two lessons received is more reflective of the process employed to assess them than the lessons (students or classes).
The inspection write up:
Part I introduced the inspection, offered a metaphor I’ve found helpful in describing what happened, explained my rationale for writing about it and provided a disclaimer that this was just a personal blog.
Part III considers the accuracy of the report for the school more broadly.
Part IV raises five questions which inspection has left me with.
Part V looks at what happened after the Inspection.
The Ofsted report can be found here. The school’s response is here.
For another source on the school, you could consider the school’s Parent View (one highlight is that, as of today, 97% of parents would recommend the school to another parent).
It may also be of interest to read the thoughts of some previous visitors to the school, Laura McInerney in the Guardian, Bagehot in the Economist and Roger Scruton in The Spectator.
The resources for the lesson on Day 2 include a number of elements which may be under copyright, so I’m afraid I can’t share them publicly!