What Ofsted want…

Several folk have already blogged on this title. I don’t have any inside knowledge on this, though I do know the current boss of Ofsted. We both were consultant head teachers in London Challenge. I have visited Mossbourne Academy, Michael Wilshaw’s school that he turned from a rather dismal Woodberry Down into a stunning academy. I hold no liking for the academy system, which is very expensive, and, as Hattie has shown with his effect sizes work, just does not cut the mustard in terms of improvement. Academies are great for political kudos but … well you can tell what I think!
Michael and I are probably at different ends of the leadership spectrum. His school was outstanding, urban, complex and mine was outstanding, urban and complex. We were both London heads with all the advantages and challenges that incurred.

He and I experienced the impact that London Challenge had on schools. We learned that collaboration between schools beat competition, hands down. When we looked at the rate of improvement we found that, in general, London schools were improving, as were schools nationally. Better improvement was found in those schools that were being supported by London Challenge. But the very best improvement was being wrought from those schools that were doing the supporting. Schools like mine and Michael’s.

What Michael and I wanted was high quality learning in our schools. We went about that in different ways but we both achieved excellence for our students. We both did this by focusing on learning rather than by a particular pattern of a lesson. We did not mind if there was a particular way of teaching provided we got great learning for our students. If learning was not at the high level we required then we would, in our own, different ways, discuss the lesson with the teacher AND with the students. 

I had teachers who were stunningly outstanding who could be described as very traditional. I also had equally stunning teachers who were what could be described as progressive. We had some who had desks in rows and others who had tables with groups. Ability grouping in my school was a departmental decision. Provided the students were well taught it did not matter how you did that. Whatever you did would be looked at as we wanted to learn what worked for our students, in our context, with our resources and then shared with other staff. We had our own ways of doing things. We picked the best of what was out there but refused to follow some of the “current best practice”, if it did not suit us.

I think that this is what the leader of Ofsted is saying when he says Ofsted do not have a preferred way of teaching. So why the concern? My view is that the inspectors have to say something about the lessons they observe. All they really need to say is, “the learning was good/outstanding” or whatever. But the “rules” say they have to comment on what they saw in some detail. So if they see a lesson where learning was not stunning what do they say? Probably they fall into the trap of giving advice. Stuff like, “If there was group work, the learning would have improved.” We insist that they do this so that their observation is “evidenced”. So that we know what features of the lesson they are using to make the judgment. 

This system causes them to identify what a lesson needs to improve or to comment on the features that were seen and identify them as contributing to the quality of the learning. So what would I do if I ruled the world? I would only have them report to the school that they agreed with or disagreed with the school’s own judgements. I would not let them give any feedback to individual teachers. I don’t think that feedback is their job. As I was sharply told when I once challenged the purpose of Ofsted and, as I saw it, the lack of value for money provided, that they were “not the national improvement service. They were the national inspection service.” They have a mixed role and that causes the conflict. 

What I think they should do is: Go in. Observe and provide a judgment. Stay away from commenting on why the learning was good, or bad , or whatever.

Teachers and their SLTs are the experts in the learning needs of their own students. Ofsted just measure. Ofsted, just tell us how much you think the pig weighs. Don’t tell us how to look after it. Perhaps when schools take the full responsibility for their students’ learning we will achieve quality learning across our schools. When we have true cooperation with high challenge and appropriate support we will achieve the improvements London has seen.

Perhaps we could get the government to spend the academy money on that, rather than on political votes!

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