I concluded a post on improving as a teacher almost a year ago by using a quotation I mistakenly attributed to Aristotle:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Messages from two amazing colleagues reminded me of this as the inspection ended:
Deputy John’s account of an Ofsted visit – eerily familiar in some aspects, described the next day thus: “A few hangovers, and a lot of video/ worksheet lessons.” Only two days before half term, perhaps one might even expect that in a few classrooms even without an Ofsted visit?
I had Period 1 free and knew it would be good for me to go and pop into some colleagues’ lessons & remind myself of the school’s strengths. I saw Year 8 students pursuing a project they’d conceived: teaching students at their former primary schools good grammar; they were drafting letters to the schools – very carefully! In a Year 7 English essays, students were carefully studying feedback; one described to me how she was improving her paragraph. Next door, a student broke from writing up his maths investigation to explain patiently the rule he had proved about consecutive numbers.
It was soon my turn. Habits are powerful – while part of me wanted to switch off, relax, take it easy, I’ve spent too much time practising the the routines with which I start lessons to drop them, no matter how exhausted I may be. Before I knew it, I was being interrogated on the relationship between Babylonian conceptions of time and ‘reality’ – and things were back to normal. Soon afterwards, students were involved in debating which Greek mathematician was greatest – of which the following is a short extract (the passion and evidence at work grant licence to exceed my preferred volume for classroom discussion).
(You may (or may not) be able to discern mention of: Pythagoras, Thales, Hypatia, Babylonian mathematicians; consideration of how legitimate it is for Pythagoras to take credit for what he learned from the Babylonians and dispute as to whether it is more significant to initiate an idea or to complete it. All in 45 seconds).
The highlight of the day, however, was the Valentine’s cards we found arrayed mid-way through the day.
But this is in the short term. Over half-term as I drafted these blogs, I also tried to write up how I felt about the inspection and where it takes me, and us:
How can I respond to being inspected?
Blogging helps me teach better. My colleagues, in school and online, help me teach better. My students help me teach better. And Ofsted: I am no better and no worse from their visit, (even if it has led me to write a series of negative posts – something I’d eschewed previously). I don’t think inspectors are in a position to judge me accurately; I don’t believe their judgment changes who I am as a teacher.
I had been trying to move on from seeing Ofsted grades as ways to evaluate ourselves our work over the last year and a half. In rewriting the head of history specification, I removed the word ‘outstanding’ from every bullet point. I had no wish to work with someone who viewed themselves in narrow terms as ‘outstanding;’ I wanted to work with someone great, who had their own ideas and principles as to what greatness was (found someone brilliant, too). I’ve been brazenly abusing my responsibility for CPD to encourage my colleagues to move away from thinking about Ofsted criteria to judge success in teaching. In the run up to the inspection, I had advocated aiding to be graded ‘good’ and be proud of work, rather than gaining an ‘outstanding’ at the cost of any of our principles.
I don’t believe that it’s right for a school to rely on external organisations to validate its existence. I’m not arguing that there shouldn’t be some form of external assessment of schools’ competence (although I do think the form and process needs radical change). But being graded outstanding does not change what a school is doing. Why do we plaster quotations from Ofsted reports outside schools, when we could promote examples of our students’ work? Or parents’ and students’ opinions? Or teachers’ self-evaluations?
The way we have been judged will, presumably, affect parents’ choices, teachers’ beliefs and ultimately our teaching. But I hope that the impact on all three is minimal.
I have no wish to work in an outstanding school. I would like to work in a great school – a distinction John Tomsett has made, most articulately, here. I do not believe schools pursuing outstanding judgments for their own sake are doing their students or teachers any favours.
A colleague told me on Day 3 how proud she was of what we’re doing at the school. I share that pride. Ofsted are welcome to make what they will of the greatness we are working towards. I hope that the next inspection better recognises what we are doing at the school. While we need to survive their judgment, our students, our community and we ourselves are the real arbiters of our success.
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 IV raises five questions which inspection has left me with.
I will publish one more post on the Ofsted inspection and its aftermath next week where, emulating Laura McInerney, I consider what I’ve learned from writing about Ofsted.
The Ofsted report can be found here. The school’s response is here.
My colleague Will Lau has written a thorough account of his take on the inspection judgments.
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.