The tail wagging the dog – Ofsted, accountability and how we run our schools 2


So what now?

For Ofsted

I personally believe that we need Ofsted to hold schools to account.

  •  Now compulsory SEFs have gone, to some people’s relief, I think there is a hole (quick search shows it’s still available for EYFS?) . A hole for checking essentials. A way of ensuring that the processes and systems a school have are effective and having the desired outcomes. I propose that schools should have to present ‘where they are’ in a common format to justify their own self evaluation. This is then shared with the inspectors. Their job is then to collect evidence that supports or contradicts this. The inspectors are therefore holding the leaders to account on what they are saying is happening. Leaders should be able to easily direct inspectors to where they can find the evidence. If a school is effectively monitoring and evaluating over the two years NOTHING should be a new document for Ofsted.
The school should have a simple record of how standards are being met

The school should have a simple record of how standards are being met

  • The record is not supposed to be onerous. It shouldn’t take hours. It should be  simple.  Schools that have SDP, SEF, RIP, headteacher’s reports etc should streamline them all and put it them one  document.  All staff should see it. All staff should contribute. It can easily be set up electronically.


  • Ofsted’s purpose should wholly be to check. Schools should be presenting a picture. Inspectors should then check all is being done. They shouldn’t be judging the teaching, teachers or children. They should just be checking that the school is doing things effectively. The final judgement is whether the school has accurately reported what is really going on and consequently if they are ‘good enough‘. Mick Walters suggests in ‘Thinking allowed on Schooling’ that fine grades should disappear. It’s either ‘good enough’ or ‘not good enough’.


Ofsted collect their evidence

Ofsted collect their evidence

  • Ofsted should go to every school at least every two years regardless of it’s previous grade. Leaving schools that are a 1 is not part of an effective accountability system. A lot can happen in two years. Accountable means ALWAYS accountable.
  • They should seriously consider ‘no notice’ inspections. Controversial. But if it is just ‘checking’ what schools are doing and schools are doing what they should be then why should they need any notice? Having an emergency assembly with students and staff staying up all hours planning is not showing what a school really does on a day to day basis.  They should not really consider much of what they see on the days unless it seriously undermines the schools ‘story’. If Oftsed are saying that learning should be judged by progress over time then I think that everything in the school should be measured over time. A two day snapshot is not representative of the school and should thus be seen as a ‘taster’ not how it always is.
  • It is irrelevant if they see a lesson that isn’t great. As long as the school has acknowledged that they are aware that this happens. If their school evaluation says all lessons are fantastic, the inspector then needs to ask some questions to find out why. If all the lessons aren’t great, then the leaders are most probably inaccurate in their school evaluation which isn’t ‘good enough’.

The measurement

  • Teaching/leadership standards – If the Government have teaching standards that one can assume means the standard at which is ‘good enough’ then why aren’t these used across the board? No separate criteria for Ofsted. If they need to be tweaked then they should, but they shouldn’t be different to what Ofsted is using to hold schools to account. There may need to be teacher standards, non-teacher standards and leadership standards to ensure that all roles are clear (Prof. Robert Coe suggests the Danielson framework for teaching). A teacher should simply be able to show how they are meeting the standards. The job of leaders and managers in the school is then to support, develop, monitor and evaluate in meeting these standards across the school. They then are meeting leadership standards. If there is evidence over time that the teachers and leaders are meeting the standards then it is ‘good enough’. I’ve already blogged here about how I feel that teachers should use the teaching standards to form their CPD.


  • These standards should form the basis of everything that happens in school in terms of CPD, appraisal, coaching, mentoring, line management etc  If I move from one school to another the standards should remain the same. I shouldn’t have to learn the ‘made up’ criteria that that school has chosen to use for observing lessons etc


Ultimately, a school should be driven by the people in it. We need to know what we are being held to account with and that process must be as objective as possible. The standards decide the ‘what’, the school decides the ‘how’ and the ‘how effective’  and finally Ofsted holds to account by rubber stamping (or not) the school’s evaluation.

I think there is a role for Ofsted but it should move towards holding the school to account for what it says it is doing and the consequent impact. Is this what it says it is doing anyway? If so it needs a re-brand. A new emphasis. The ‘judgement’ is whether the school has evaluated where it is correctly.



When are a school’s results, not a school’s results?


When the results are a result of students having private tuition.

How many schools ask students directly if they are having private tuition in a subject?

Do you use this in results analysis?

Someone told me today that a school with barely any maths teachers got its best ever results one year. Most of the students had private tutors.

The tail wagging the dog – Ofsted, accountability & how we run our schools 1


Having read Stephen Tierney’s blog post on accountability and other Twitter discussions on how Ofsted needs to change I have been thinking about the whole system of school accountability.

I think that for Ofsted to change and schools have to significantly change how they view accountability. Currently many schools run like this:

Who is most accountable? To who?

Who is most accountable? To whom? Who makes strategic decisions?

They run their schools for Ofsted. Using the criteria that Ofsted publish for inspections as a basis for what they do. When Ofsted make a press release it is repeated in school and if action is needed to change what the school is doing to meet this, then it is done.

They listen to every Government announcement and re-act to it regardless as to what was happening before (A classic case of this was schools entering early for English & Maths and then when it was announced that these figures wouldn’t count in league tables suddenly withdrawing the entries).

The ‘power’ of decision-making comes from the top. The people at the bottom are the ‘receivers’ of the decisions. They aren’t protected. They are just told that Ofsted/The Government have changed so we ‘have’ to do it. The tail is wagging the dog.

Is the tail wagging the dog?

These schools are confusing being accountable to Ofsted and allowing Ofsted to determine how things are done.

Whilst many blame Ofsted for this, essentially it comes down to the leaders in a school to decide what is happening in a school. Ofsted say:

We inspect schools to provide information to parents and carers, to promote improvement and, where applicable, to hold schools to account for the public money they receive. 

It doesn’t say, ‘by following  model X’. They don’t care how it’s done (within health and safety guidelines) they just want to check schools are doing what they should be.

So why aren’t schools making their own decisions?

They don’t know how to

Education is an odd system. If you’re a good teacher you get promoted to do things that aren’t directly teaching. Like leading and managing. Being a good teacher does not necessarily mean you are a good leader and manager. You may lack the strategic skills needed on how to pull together all the aspects of your school and come up with a coherent, manageable, effective plan. In this case you will then look to what is being ‘said’ in education and you can just follow that. If it comes from ‘above’ then you can always justify it.

They are scared they might get it wrong

This is high stakes stuff. You’re impacting the quality of education for hundreds and thousands of children. You’ve got to get it right. If it comes from ‘above’ it must be right.

They don’t want to – it takes too much

To come up with a  comprehensive plan  for your school is one thing. To implement it, monitor and evaluate it is huge. Schools are busy places. A dysfunctional leadership will make the task almost  impossible.

They think there’s only one way of doing things

The Ofsted way. There must be a ‘golden’ formula and Ofsted are the ones who are giving it. You spend their time trying to work out what this formula is from speeches,  press releases and Ofsted documents.

The next post will look at what Ofsted and schools can do differently to ensure that accountability and strategic decision-making are separated.

Why you must show students mark schemes – the secret success criteria


Following on from Ofqual’s implication via their survey that making students learn a mark scheme is ‘undermining qualification standards’ and gives them an ‘unfair advantage’ I’ve thought about how exam boards don’t help the situation. I believe that there are ‘hidden’ hurdles for students in exams. Until Ofqual insist that exam questions are marked fairly in relation to the question that is asked, teachers that care about students results, will look at mark schemes and in turn teach these to students. 


I teach with two exam boards. One for GCSE religious studies and one for AS/A2 Critical thinking. In both cases there are hidden success criteria that if unknown will limit student achievement.

For the GCSE one of the questions is always structured as follows:

Do you agree with/think that X?

Give two reasons for your point of view.

4 marks

Now you would think that if a student gives two reasons that they would get full marks because the question only asks the candidate for this. However this is not true. If you just give two reasons you get half the marks.

Here is the mark scheme:

1 one brief reason
2 two brief reasons or one developed reason
3 two reasons with one developed
4 two developed reasons

 If a student does not ‘know’ the mark scheme this will mean that they can only achieve 50% of the marks. My question is, why doesn’t the question say ‘Give two developed reasons’?

It does the same in another question where it says ‘Give reasons’ but candidates can only achieve full marks with 3 reasons or a combination or developed/simple reasons. There is a ‘hidden’ hurdle for candidates. Why not make this explicit?

In a similar way the A level I teach does the same, with unknown emphasis on particular elements to achieve the higher marks. Here is an example question:

Write an argument…..

In your argument you should include relevant principles and explain why you have rejected at least one alternative choice. Support your argument by referring critically to the resource documents.

36 Marks


Now you would expect the mark scheme to credit:

  • Using principles (as this is plural then at least 2 seems logical)
  • Rejection of an alternative
  • Critical reference to documents
  • As they’ve asked you to write an argument it will also be looking at the argument structure & reasoning

However, the mark scheme reveals that to achieve full marks:

Accurate identification and developed application of at least 3 contrasting plausible ethical principles or at least 2 contrasting major ethical theories.


 If a student chooses to write about ethical principles then 2 is not enough. Why doesn’t the question say this?

On another paper it asks:

Write your own argument to support your view.You should use your own ideas and you may use ideas/evidence form the resource book to help you.


Whilst all students know how to write arguments at this level the mark scheme puts emphasis on particular argument elements and additional features that they may not ‘naturally’ do without knowing the mark scheme, including:

  • questioning of key terms

  • anticipation of counter arguments and effective response

and in some mark schemes it adds:

Typical indicators of Level 3 are:

  • use of intermediate conclusions
  • use of hypothetical reasoning.

Consistent and well-supported use of intermediate conclusions and/or hypothetical reasoning is an indicator of Level 4.

In addition to the indicators of Level 3, typical indicators of Level 4 are some of:

  • use of relevant counter-argument with persuasive response

  • use of relevant analogy

  • use of relevant examples or evidence

If I don’t read the mark schemes as a teacher and then tell the students this they will not be able to access the higher levels. Whilst some of the points form the basics, if examiners are being given this sort of information as to what achieves higher levels then surely it is right that the students know this? Ofqual imply that getting the students to learn the mark scheme gives them some sort of advantage. They are right of course. If I didn’t tell the students then it would come down to chance if they included the specific things that examiners are looking for.

So the question is, do you prepare students with all the information you can or leave it to chance? I know what I do.


Playing the exam game


Last week Ofqual announced it will be issuing a survey to schools for teachers to tell them about the strategies they use to prepare students for exam to ‘maximise students’ results’. They said

“There is evidence, some anecdotal, about how some of these strategies might undermine qualification standards. We want to get a better understanding of what happens in schools and what teachers think about approaches to maximising results; some of which are seen as acceptable and others which are recognised by teachers as pushing the boundaries, or even breaking the rules.”

The survey asks some very specific questions about what schools are doing to try to get the best results.  Whilst some of the points are incredibly serious in terms of breaking exam regulations (opening exam papers early), others are more ethically questionable, i.e changing teaching midway through a course due to policy change. Then there are some teachers are actively encouraged to do i.e focus on ‘C’ border students or borderline students being ‘houthoused’.

The implication behind the survey is that all of these practices are unacceptable. I agree some are but others aren’t.

Who can honestly say that their school has never done any of these?