Saturday, 22 June 2013

The day a tiger came for breakfast, lunch and tea – Ofsted

Ofsteded – verb( past tense), to describe the process of an inspection in a school.

In case you missed it, I was paid a little visit by Ofsted three weeks ago.  The report was published finally this week and I can scream from the rooftops that our school received a good. This, I am incredibly happy about, as ‘good’ is like the new ‘outstanding’ in the new, harder, tougher regime of inspections. It feels like that the title of good was well and truly deserved. It was a team effort and everyone pulled together and proved our worth. So, how do I feel about the process?  Was it worthwhile? Was it as bad as I thought it would be?

The Process
Firstly, I am glad it is over, because the disruption it caused for two days was monumental. As soon as the call was received, the school turned into ‘Tracy Island’. The offices were moved. Paintings were moved so that people could access the emergency chute. The palm trees moved aside so the inspectors could park their sparkling and shining Audis. Surprisingly, they were all black, suggesting they like leaving and arriving under the cover of darkness. In fact, it reminded me of a poem, ‘Stop all the clocks’. I stopped eating, breathing, sleeping and being remotely human for a week.  I dropped my family from all my thoughts and worked hard. Ofsted became my North, South, West, East, my everything.

In fact, that is the problem with the inspections: we know we do a good job, but the chances of seeing it in one lesson is reduced considerably, when you know a lot is depending on the outcome of an observation. I’d love to be the type of person that thinks, ‘I am going to teach how I normally teach.’ But, I am not, because actually I care and I know that Ofsted are observing. Let me just repeat myself: they are observing. The key word is observing. They want to see things. I did teach a normal lesson, but it had the Ofsted veneer. I made explicit the things I do implicitly in a normal lesson.  I am subtle with some things in lessons, so I don’t advertise that I am checking progress or doing some AFL, but with the big O I made those things explicit.  For a start, I used the words or terms, when teaching. 

The planning is the worst thing, I think. I can teach reasonably well, but as soon at Tracy Island got the call and the pictures started flashing in the Head’s office flashing, my brain starting to download an unnecessary file and ran a full virus scan. A lesson that normally takes me 20 minutes to plan took me several hours. Why? Because the pressure is heaped on to one lesson.  You know there is a very good chance they will see you.  However, there is no guarantee that they will see you twice.  If they saw me twice, then there is a greater chance of me demonstrating my full potential. See me once and  then everything is focused on one lesson. I procrastinated so much that I started to doubt my own name. Will this work? Is this too hard? Is this too easy? Have I differentiated enough? Will they show progress in 5 seconds?

The Lesson (Year 8 last lesson of the day)
You are on edge and so are the students.  During the whole process, it struck me how good the students were in this kind of situation. I started the lesson and waited and waited. The students were furtively looking at the door, checking to see if we expecting an inspector. I was staring furtively at the door, hoping that the inspector had the wrong number for my room. It was tense. Will they come in?

Simple overview of the lesson planned

Objectives: To explore different types of persuasive writing

Starter: Students guess what links four pictures together. They are all adverts.

Task 1: Students are given a pack of persuasive texts or extracts. They have to rank them for effectiveness.

Task 2: Students put the texts into different groups.

Teacher discusses how persuasive texts have different effects.

Task 3: Students identify the different effects and then list the features on A3 sheets of paper stuck around the room.

Plenary: Students, in pairs, make a small advert for a new chocolate bar, but they use an effect given to them.

They did come in. Well, she did and she had a clipboard – nothing quite says power like a clipboard. The lady walked in and I pointed out a chair at the back of the room. She sat and observed and remained silent for the whole time. She watched. And she watched…. and she watched so more. I am a little pushy, so I didn’t want her to just watch. I wanted her to do more. If I am going to fail at something, I am not going down without a fight. In fact, I was prepared to fight. Before the lesson had started, I placed the exercise books from each class near the Ofsted position / chair.  As she was watching and watching and making notes, I walked up to her and said: ‘please, feel free to look at the exercise books’.  And, she did. So she stopped watching and started reading the exercise books.   

Then, the inspector walked around the room, looking at displays and listening to the students’ work. She didn’t talk to the students once. (Some lessons they did: some lessons they didn’t). She just listened and listened.  She watched and watched. She even picked up a feedback sheet I had to help students from a wall display. Shockingly, the inspector nabbed it. Not only did this lady watch and watch, read and read, listen and listen, but she stole and stole – right from under my eyes.  Finally, she walked and walked. Thankfully, she walked out of the classroom. The whole class, including me, let out a sigh of relief as the door closed.

For the next day, it was back to the first paragraph of this section – waiting and waiting.

The Feedback from the Lesson
I always think a ‘thumbs up’ would be great as an observer leaves. As a teacher, you know how important instant feedback is. Sticking a thumb up would reduce my stress and relax me a bit more, but no, I had to wait in line for my feedback. The lines I had seen throughout the day looked like the lines to Madam Guillotine.  I joined a line and waited for my turn. During the day, I had heard good and bad things.  If you weren’t a teacher, that line would be the best place to sit and knit, as you could see people being crushed or praised.

I have debated whether to share my feedback here, because I am quite reserved. I have never shared the grades of my lessons with anyone, apart from my wife. But, I feel it necessary in this case and, please, do not think I am boasting or showing off. Believe me: I have buckets of humility. In fact, I could probably bottle it and sell it off.

I got an outstanding for the 20 minutes the inspector saw of my lesson.  I was ready to challenge and attack, but the wind was taken out of my sails. I sat there speechless. I had heard so much about how things were tougher and I was expecting to fight, but I was completely taken aback.  She mentioned the following:

·         The displays supported the learning – even though she nabbed a bit of one

·         The students were engaged  and the relationship between students and teacher were positive

·         The planning

·         The students were independently learning

·         They were using talk to develop their learning

I walked away happy and then replanned every lesson for the next day, based on this feedback.  Things just happened to go well in that lesson. Sadly, this is the luck of the draw. I don’t think I would be lucky a second time around.

The Result
Everything about Ofsted is too subjective. The inspector observing me liked my style of teaching. If I was observed by another inspector, I don’t know if I would get the same result. I’d like to be pleased with the result, but part of me doubts things. The inspector in question wasn’t an English teacher, so would an English teacher give the same grading? I know, I should be grateful for what I got, but part of me wonders if it is better to be observed by a subject specialist or somebody from a different subject.

They also, in my opinion, went into a lesson looking for something. They knew what they wanted to see. I happened to show it. Maybe, they were looking for independent learning when observing me. It is hard to do everything in 20 minutes and that's why I think I got lucky. I don't feel too good about the result, as I think it may have more to do with luck, than anything else. I did the magic thing that they just so happened to be looking for. That's why lesson observations are a case of hit and miss. I could be an inspector looking for reading skills, yet the 20 minutes observed in a practical aspect of a Science lesson and there is no reading involved. Does the teacher get marked down? Who knows?

Anyway, Tracy Island got a good. We had ‘good’ across the board in the report.  Literacy did really well too and I will blog about it next.  The whole experience was draining. It was physically and mentally draining. It has taken me the two weeks it takes for the report to be published for me to get over the whole experience.

Secretly, the main thing we are all bothered about is: How long until they visit us again? Thankfully, they will not visit me for a while. Now, I can get back to doing what I want to do: teach.

Good things can stem from bad things. One of the most positive experiences from Ofsted is how teachers are pulling together. I have seen teachers supporting others over the experience. Schools are sharing their experiences of having a visit from Ofsted. I am sharing my experiences so that collectively we can work out, what on earth, they want to see.  The more we talk and share, the more we know. Let’s be honest; they are not going to produce a fact sheet about how to get an outstanding grade in a lesson observation. They are too secretive. Tell us what you want and we will do it. The mystery and secrecy surrounding Ofsted is causing the big problems in teaching. Let’s talk, teachers. Talk about lessons. Talk about what went well. Talk about what didn’t go well. There’s a greater chance of people getting good or outstanding schools, if we know what one looks like.

Please, please, please share your Ofsted experiences with other teachers. Let's help those who still face the scary call when the tiger visits for tea.

At least the visit was better than the old style inspections. The stress was reduced to fewer days and we didn't have several days waiting for their arrival.

Thanks for reading,


P.S. I will be blogging about Ofsted again, but next time I will write from a Literacy Coordinator’s point of view.   

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