This was my first Ofsted. Although I’d heard and read much about inspections, I still found the process bewildering. I am left with five particularly pressing questions.
1) In what sense do inspectors help teachers improve?
Despite asking for it, I received no feedback. My colleague was told he was not allowed to see his lesson observation forms (the link to do so is here). Those colleagues who managed to speak with inspectors were offered surprising and dubious comments which graded their lesson rather than offering formative ideas. This accords ill with the words of the inspector on the first day: that he was there to help us improve. Perhaps it’s right that ‘light touch’ inspections will move away from observations (although I think we have problems if they’re going to place an even higher premium on dubious data). Observations hold high stakes for teachers and put them under significant pressure; individually, they seem to get little back from them.
2) How accurate and useful are lesson observation judgments?
I was told at the time (by the Acting Head, from what she’d had from inspectors) that I’d been graded a ‘3’ on Day 1 and a ‘1’ on Day 2. (this was the main subject of Part II). I’d agree that the performance of students in the latter lesson was better than in the former: as the second lesson of a two-part sequence and with (arguably) an easier task, the inspector heard many more ‘correct answers.’
What does this prove? The attack led by David Didau on the conflation of learning and performance, and on grading lessons, seems increasingly irrefutable. Learning happens when students have to think hard and changes take place in the long-term memory. Formative assessment goes some way to open up this process, but the bulk of it remains hidden. Judging lessons on the correct answers heard or the lack of struggle on students’ part is no invitation for teachers to challenge their students.
On the other hand, if judgments are to be taken seriously, how should my managers respond? Retrain me in teaching Year 8 (so different from Year 7)? Give me more SEN students (since I ‘taught better’ in a class with more students with additional needs)? Give me Tuesdays off and load my Wednesday timetable higher?
3) Who trains the inspectors?
Some of what inspectors said and did conflicted with Ofsted’s own guidance. Ofsted say they don’t grade lessons – and then, for those colleagues who did manage to gain feedback, stated grades outright (as they did to school leaders). They appeared to believe, as I described in Part III that students in mixed ability classrooms should have identical outcomes. They asserted that students should not struggle in their learning. I have little knowledge of the training process inspectors go through, the teaching experience they hold and the continuing professional development required of them – I’d be curious to learn more.
4) How wedded are inspectors to given solutions?
A new school does not have three years of data. Schools have been encouraged, with the abolition of levels, to experiment with new assessment structures – yet this appeared both to confuse inspectors and to excite their suspicion. ‘Zest for learning’ can be demonstrated in a range of ways – (my colleague Will Lau has shown some of them here). Yet on both counts, inspectors appeared to have a narrow range of preferred solutions (National Curriculum levels for the former, requests for extension work for the latter).
5) How reliable are school inspection judgments?
A gut feeling which most risks the unpleasant tang of sour grapes I’m battling to avoid in these posts. It seems to me that inspectors reached their conclusions very early and discounted much of what they saw thereafter. I don’t believe our school is ‘worse’ than most English schools. A number of friends have reacted with shock to our grade and statements such as: “But my school is a ‘Good’ – and there’s no way we’re better than GFS.” They tell of poor behaviour, low expectations and the gaming of accountability and exam systems. This leads me to question how reliable and how comparable the grades schools receive are. If these reactions are even partially correct, the value of the inspection system in providing information for schools, parents and society seems limited.
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 II discusses my experience of inspection as a teacher and middle leader
Part III considers the accuracy of the report for the school more broadly.
Part V looks at what happened after the Inspection.
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).