The OFSTED Experience
The changing face of school improvement and the justified quest for higher standards strengthens the argument that a national inspection service has to transform as well. In June 2013, we had four inspections within the Cabot Learning Federation and all four were challenging as we knew they would be, but we also had intelligent inspection teams who looked at the impact of our strategies and were less concerned about what we did to achieve them. We do not believe in a formulaic approach to teaching across the federation, preferring instead to set clear expectations about the quality of engagement, progress and attainment whilst allowing our Principals to support teachers to develop strategies that produce these outcomes. Therefore it was interesting to open the Sunday Times this morning (January 26 2014) and read this debate being played out on a national scale through printed press and social media.
If the time has come to take a fresh look at the role of an inspection service, let us be careful not to assume that everything is wrong and that it does not work. This is simply not the case. There will always be examples where schools have bruising experiences where “rogue” inspectors are not on message with HMCI and I have heard and read Sir Michael Wilshaw say on more than one occasion that this should not be the case. Wilshaw is also dead right to challenge the notion that the choice should not be between children learning in “serried ranks” on the one hand and being the focus of an experiment into “child centred” learning methodologies on the other. The reality as he says in the Sunday Times interview today is “We want inspectors to test whether children have been given the necessary knowledge and skills to pass the exams in front of them but we also want them to be given the opportunity to think for themselves and work in teams and co-operate with others”. A teaching policy based on the extremes of the argument will do neither.
So what is the model for an Inspection service within a school led model of system wide improvement?
1. Have two judgments not five. Overall Effectiveness which is a judgement on the output of the leadership of the school and Leadership, which is a judgement on the effectiveness of their inputs.
2. Teaching should no longer have a single numerical judgement and should be a reflection of senior and middle leadership performance and assessed within the leadership judgement of the inspection. This will remove the need for the relentless focus on scorecards of what grades people got and shift development towards continuing and sustained improvement for all teachers.
3. Self-evaluation of the leadership team into their own performance and that of the school must continue to be the key planning tool that underpins the justification of any judgement
4. Outcomes in public tests and exams over a three year period should inform the outcome more than it does at the moment. Trends up and down will give an indication into the capacity of the school to sustain improvement and will reduce the “quick fix” mentality in the most challenging schools in order to sustain deep improvement and cultural change. Hold schools to account for results and progression to the next stage of a child’s education but leave the methodologies to the leaders who know the school best. If they fail to deliver the outcomes that they predicted and were responsible for, then the judgment will follow
5. Children progress from primary to secondary to post 16 to University. An inspection framework for 2014 and beyond needs to look far more critically at the progression children make between these critical points and how well progress is maintained and increased.
6. A new Inspection framework should encourage more and more schools to work together in partnerships where leaders take collective responsibility for children beyond their own building. Outstanding schools in particular should take this more seriously as they build the argument to maintain their top judgement.
So where does this leave the TEACHING debate?
We must not forget teaching is an art and a science and cannot be subsumed into a formula. Sir Michael Wilshaw gets this and now the inspection model needs to bring clarity to support his viewpoint.
Too much time has been spent preparing to teach a “typically good” lesson for OFSTED. CPD sessions on “How to get a “good” judgement” are missing the point, because it focuses on what happens in individual lessons instead of taking a collective view across the whole school over a period of time. Instead, the focus of an inspection with regard to teaching should be based on the following key points that bring the whole judgement back to the performance of leaders in the school and their capacity to lead improvement and consistency and the ability of teachers to teach great and inspiring lessons. My framework for judging the impact of leadership on teaching to help shape overall effectiveness would include these questions.
a. How well does the leadership team challenge the capability of its teachers and how well developed and supported are they?
b. How effective is staff training in relation to developing pedagogy?
c. How effective is performance management in ensuring outstanding teaching producing outstanding outcomes?
d. How ambitious are the targets for the children and how are they meeting them?
e. How exciting was the stimulus for learning in the lesson? What exposure was there to great texts, film, sound and music? If the teacher spends 20 minutes describing a fantastic poem by Wilfred Owen are we really going to criticise them for too much teacher talk?
f. How good is the work of the children as seen in their exercise books and folders?
g. What impact does this lesson have on literacy development?
h. What opportunities are there for extended and enriched learning to take place in and beyond the curriculum?
i. How well are other adults deployed? What impact are they having on the learning of the children?