Visit to Ofsted 31/10/14 – My thoughts


I will be honest. I wasn’t going to do a blog or tweet about this but now I think that sharing some of the messages could benefit others so I’ve decided to share what I took from meeting Mike Cladingbowl yesterday.  Another attendee @cazzypot has also blogged what she took from it here.

Firstly a big thank you to Mike for inviting us all along. It was a really great mix of people from all different contexts. We were able to be very open and Mike was very down to earth. He is very aware of the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of schools today. He really has been committed to listening to teachers, even if in some cases we agreed to disagree. He’s a great leader and what a lucky team he will lead from September. I asked him if he’ll miss all this attention and photos as an edu-celeb, I bet he will!

Media preview

Myself, Mike & Fiona.

For the sake of clarity I will put in orange what Mike said and the rest are my views/interpretation/comment. Overall these are my select points and are not representative of the entire meeting.

The biggest damage is the ‘fear’ of Ofsted & leaders doing what they ‘think’ Ofsted want

I felt I had to make this point and asked Mike what Ofsted might do to combat this. One of the biggest day to day problems that teachers have is leaders interpreting ‘what Ofsted want’ or listening to a consultant inspector who ‘sells’ their knowledge which is inaccurate. He clearly isn’t impressed with those inspectors that are perpetuating incorrect information. He used the phrase ‘weak leadership’ for those leaders that rely on what they think Ofsted want for making decisions.


I queried HMI coming in to schools and telling leaders how they should do things. As teachers we are told ‘we’re doing it this way because our HMI told us to’. Whilst Mike agreed that this wasn’t always appropriate there may be times when it is especially if a school was in special measures and needed some basics sorting. I suggested they may say to leaders ‘you seem to have issue X, what could be done to resolve it?’ and come to a group agreement on an action as opposed to leaders doing directly as they were told to. We discussed the difference between inspectors giving ideas and telling schools what they should do.

British Values

Mike clarified the definition of these values and referred us to the Inspector’s handbook document which outlines what this means:

The social development of pupils is shown by their: acceptance and engagement with the fundamental British values of  democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; the pupils develop and demonstrate skills and attitudes that will allow them to  participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain.

and in terms of leadership

Inspectors should consider how well leadership and management ensure that the curriculum: actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

Ofsted’s judgements are mostly correct

Mike was clear that whilst there may be disagreements with particulars in inspections and reports, that teams are mostly correct in their judgements of a school. Some of you may say that they should be 100%, yes they should but I think it is more noble to say ‘most’ than to say ‘all’ when inspectors are humans that can make mistakes, as we all can.

We also talked about the quality of the inspectors. He would like the focus to shift from quality control of reports to quality control of inspectors. One way this will happen is for the 3 ISPs to cease being used and for Ofsted to manage inspectors centrally.

Advice for schools

Mike said for us to think about this,

Is there a child in my school not doing well? Who is it/are they? What are we doing about it?

I particularly liked this because he did not mention FSM or EAL or LAC or SEN. It is ANY child. Our duty is to support all children equally.

He also said very clearly that leaders AND teachers should consider these questions about their practice;

Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why have you decided to do it this way?

and if the answer to any of this is ‘For Ofsted’ then a school needs to rethink what they’re doing.

This includes teacher level. So take for example your marking. Why do you mark that way? There isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ answer but there are definitely some wrong answers. This very much supports the idea of us using research including our own research in school to determine what we do and how we do it. Will responses to these questions differentiate ‘Good’ from ‘Outstanding’?

My personal belief is that inspectors will know an Outstanding school when the dialogues they have with all staff are true discussions about what works and what doesn’t work for that school and about what they are trialling, what they’ve trialled and what impact if any the trials have had. I think this sort of behaviour is that of an Outstanding school that is prepared to take risks. Nothing is done for Ofsted. Good schools just do what they ‘know’ works and nothing new in fear of dropping.

Lesson plans and observation forms

There were lots of grumbles and chuckles when Mike asked how many of have seen lesson observation forms with pages and pages of multiple matrices.

These aren’t needed. Again ‘poor leadership’ was mentioned.

Being ‘done with’ not being ‘done to’

My feeling is that Ofsted hope to move towards working with schools in coming to a judgement instead of just being judged by the inspection team.  Mike said the new proposal for ‘Good’ schools is very much based around a dialogue with HMI every 3 years. Whilst another attendee didn’t agree I urged him to consider ensuring that ALL voices get heard in inspections rather than the select view as usually decided by the school. A staff survey should be compulsory to issue but optional for staff to complete & off course be anonymous.

It’s not all about the data

The belief still exists that inspectors have already made their mind up about a school from the data before they’ve entered the school. Of course Mike confirmed this not to be true even though presented with anecdotes from the group on how they believed this to be true. Indeed last week I saw a report where it clearly said the school’s results were below floor standards but they got a ‘good’.

And finally….

If you haven’t done it yet, Mike is very keen for all colleagues to complete the current consultation on Ofsted. Please complete and share!

The journey

The journey to and from Birmingham was enhanced by meeting up with Fiona (@FKRitson) She is an amazing English teacher. She inspired me with her tales of fabulous lessons on ‘Of Mice and men’.  On the train on the way, we were gassing about teaching and teachers when the girl behind me started to giggle She told us she was a physics NQT who had managed her first half term. Teachers seem to be everywhere!

On the train back we were gassing again about buying our own materials and in particular buying a visualiser. The man next to me politely interrupted and told us he was a local school Governor. He owns his own accountancy business and wanted to ask us about what we were discussing. We made it very clear how many teachers do spend their own money on resources. He was genuinely surprised by this as he said he would never dream of doing this nor any of his employees doing it. He said he was going to speak to his school to see if it happens. Hopefully it gave him an insight to the world of teaching.

A really great day. Thanks Mike and his team at Ofsted & thanks Fiona for being a great travel companion.




Ofsted chasing & ‘whack a mole’


In the USA there is a past time called Tornado chasing or storm chasing. Participants spend hours and days ‘reading’ the skies, working out whether or not there will be a dramatic storm heading their way. And if it isn’t heading their way, they jump into a 4×4 and go to find the storm. Companies offer experienced ‘guides’ to take you to them. For many, the chase is part of the experience.


Photo credit

Do you chase the storm?

In yet another Saturday morning dubious analogy, I see this in schools. The storm is Ofsted. It’s almost like a hobby or an addiction. Looking for the ‘signs’ that Ofsted is coming. Ridiculous conversations including ‘well they’re in the area so they must be coming to us’.

I know this because I am also guilty of it.

But there are some leaders that run their schools around it.  All decisions are made around what the DfE and Ofsted are focussing on at the given time.

Some Christians use the moral guide ‘What would Jesus do?’ these people use the leadership guide ‘what would Oftsed want?’

What’s the problem with this?

Have you ever played this game at the fair?

Photo credit

The problem is they just keep popping up!

I think it’s called ‘whack a mole’. In case you haven’t, the purpose of the game is to hit moles that appear through the holes so that all moles stay down. They pop up randomly and quickly. It takes a fast response to keep up!

It probably doesn’t take long to see my dubious analogy #2. If we replace moles with Ofsted/Dfe guidance, we are playing a seemingly impossible game. Waiting for the next ‘guidance’ to pop up and rush to follow it. By the time you’ve done this, it’s disappeared and something else pops up. You can’t win!

The solution

I am not suggesting that any leader or school should ignore what is being said however I do think that a school should not be basing decisions on it.

If a school has established its core principles and beliefs, one would hope based around the greater good for students, then I don’t think it needs to change much when the newest publication is released. I don’t think Ofsted or Sir Michael Wilshaw want schools that are changing everything when they announce it. Their underlying assumption is that schools have the moral purpose to start from a solid ground of educational standards. They don’t need to be told.

An example is SMSC/community cohesion/RE/values education.

I would hope that a school understands how importance it is for a child to have a knowledge and understanding of the place they live, the country they’re in and the planet they live. I hope they believe they giving a child the opportunity to discuss big questions in life, horrible disasters in life, great celebrations in life, is an essential part of what we can give children. The opportunity to discuss why people do things, including things they may not agree with but to develop a sense of empathy or at least a set of skills to be able to justify different points of view.  It doesn’t matter what you call it, it should be there. So, as with the latest letter from Sir Michael Wilshaw, as a result of the Trojan Horse affair, he has told inspectors to particularly focus on SMSC from September. This should not pose any issue to any school. A school should see the importance of this and have it embedded in their core values well before the Trojan Horse affair began.


So, whilst you may think I’m naive in this view, I truly believe that if a school has a core set of educational values that they can afford to ‘ignore’ these updates. Not out of arrogance but safe in the knowledge saying, ‘Yes, we already do that’.



Exam factories


I had a very interesting conversation with my niece yesterday. She’s in year 11 in a secondary school, which has just come out of special measures. She is a bright and articulate young lady and told me the following things that I could only sit and nod at, out of frustration & empathy rather than with agreement.

In September of year 11, her school decided that they would enter the students for iGCSE English ( I’m not sure if it was as well as normal GCSE or instead). The plan was to enter them for the November exam. For this to work they had to complete iGCSE coursework in this very short period of time. They were ‘made’ to stay behind after normal school hours to get this coursework done in time. But then of course, in October the Government decided to change the rules about early entry GCSEs and that the results from these would not count in the schools headline figures in the summer. Because of this, they dropped the iGCSE for all the students. They’d just worked incredibly hard on coursework to be told it wasn’t worth anything. As you can imagine this didn’t make the students feel valued. She even asked a member of staff about it and their reply was along the lines of ‘we have no choice’.

I think this was the beginning of her realisation that actually she wasn’t an individual for whom the school wanted to develop and nurture, but a number. A statistic. Her following anecdotes supported this hypothesis.

She told me that in the year 11 assemblies leading up to the exams, the assembly leader has made a big deal of the ‘count down’ to how much time they had left. “You’ve only got two months now” etc I think this is probably an understabable method of trying to get students focused. However she then told me that an assembly leader said something like “the school has paid a significant amount of money  for you to do these exams. If you let us down by not doing well, you’ve wasted our money”. This is horrific emotional blackmail. I was seriously unimpressed.

Also, the school has not run any trips for students since they went into SM. Her memories of her year 7-9 trips are the type of memories you recall twenty or more years later. They are, for most, some of the most memorable times ‘at school’.  Why have they stopped them? Do they feel under pressure to have children in the class room every day possible?

Finally, she explained how she felt that everything in the past year was about ‘how to do an exam’. She explained all the techniques she’s been taught. She felt that whilst she now knows how to write exams she hasn’t been prepared for life beyond secondary school. She said that she and her peers don’t know how to write a CV, apply for a bank account or to write their application for college.  Whilst discussing politics she admitted that she hadn’t been taught any of it.  It was my sister in law who has told her the basics.  This is the part that really saddened me. Schools are required to present a balanced and broad curriculum. It doesn’t sound like she’s had that in the past two years.

She was so clear about how these things made her and her peers feel. She suggested plausible alternatives on how to make the experience of year 11 balanced but effective.

So, whilst I’m sure the school is hoping for better results this summer, I really hope at some point someone in the organisation or failing that, an inspector speaks to the children about their experiences. I hope that they take on board that we have the privilege of working with these bright, articulate students who do want the best for themselves in terms of results but also in terms of being prepared for life. Otherwise we’re just running exams factories.







These are her and my opinions and interpretations.

Will book scrutiny become the new lesson observation?


I just read this in an Ofsted report..

 Although joint observations during the inspection indicated that senior leaders are accurate in their evaluations of teaching, school records show that the quality of teaching is judged to be good in a high proportion of lessons. This gives the school an unrealistic picture of the overall quality of teaching, because the detailed scrutiny of pupils’ work undertaken by inspectors with school leaders indicated that teaching requires improvement.

It concerns me. 

Are we just moving from using lesson observation to judge teaching to using book scrutiny instead?

Here it seems to be a real limiter. 

I’m concerned about people looking at student books without the teacher present to explain, guide and show how they use student books.

I have a particular way that I get students to work. I mark in a particular way. However if you were to just look in their folders no-one would be able to work this out without explanation from myself or indeed the student. 

In the way in which people started to plan to teach in a particular way for observations/Ofsted, will teachers be under pressure to make student books look a particular way so the outsider can see progress? Should we be deliberately enforcing a set style for student work and marking, for someone outside to recognise what’s going on?

I fear it’s the way things are going.

#blogsync Dear Tristram – The purpose of schools


Dear Tristram,

I would like to share with you what I think the purpose of a secondary school is and how our current system  doesn’t meet the needs of all of our students.

I believe that we should be preparing our students for the world not for exams. Very cliched but essentially it is our core aim.

What do they need to succeed or even ‘survive’ in the UK today?

  • Basic literacy and communication skills (including communication using the latest technology)
  • Basic numeracy skills – enough for what they need in real life
  • Basic finance skills – to live by their means, not get into debt & understand how to manage the money they have
  • Personal, social and health knowledge, understanding and skills – this covers so many things including sex & drugs education
  • A knowledge & understanding of those around them including those of differing religious, cultural, sexual and political views – This is essential for us to have a cohesive, safe society
  • Empathy – to understand other people around them, even if they don’t agree with them
  • Problem solving skills – when the answer to their problems isn’t in front of them
  • Resilience – so they don’t give up at the first hurdle in life.
  • A sense of responsibility – for themselves, those around them and others in the world
  • The qualifications and grades needed for them to follow the career path that they choose and the correct information and guidance to get them there

Do we offer this to our students?

Whilst superficially you could answer ‘yes’, these are mostly in the curriculum in some way or another. I don’t think we do. I think that the current system of testing and league tables means that schools are too scared to ensure that every student has the above. They may  never admit it but how many schools:

  • Don’t regularly teach Citizenship and PSHE to a high standard, addressing the core issues above?
  • Don’t fulfill their responsibility to provide RE to all key stages  because other subjects are more ‘important’?or use untrained teaching assistants to teach it in a teacher’s PPA time?*
  • Make students take English GCSE when they can barely read and/or write?
  • Make students study what the school wants them to study instead of what they want to or need for their chosen career? (i.e forcing them to take Ebacc subjects)
  • Until recently, enter and re-enter students into exams to keep ‘trying’ to achieve a ‘C’ or at least 3 levels of progress?
  • Tell their students that Maths & English GCSE are the ‘most important’
  • ‘Spoon feed’ students because teachers are so scared students won’t learn enough to achieve the target grade calculated for them from a test that they sat 5 years previously.
  • Are making students learn subject matter that is irrelevant to students that want to excel in a vocational field such as hairdressing?
  • Design their curriculum for maximum benefit for the ‘school’ rather than for the child?

To clarify, I am not against students studying English, Maths or any other subject. I am not against them learning a language or the history of England, but it must be appropriate for the student.  It mustn’t be at the cost of other basic skills.

Schools are under pressure to ‘make’ students take subjects that are recognised in some way, either in progress 8 or the Ebacc to the severe detriment of some children. No wonder some of them hate school. They’re being made to study things that hold no relevance to their future, that they didn’t choose. Schools should not have that pressure put upon them. No child is more important than another because of the subject or the level of the qualification they take.

I’m not saying that students should be able to take an ‘easy’ path or only ever study what they want to learn. Life isn’t like that and it is through challenge that students gain resilience however qualifications in subjects should have parity. For example how can Biblical Hebrew (which counts as a language  in the Ebacc) be seen as more ‘important’ than Art or Music or Philosophy?

I believe that the current key stage four courses and accountability systems are not preparing ALL our children for the real life ahead of them. This doesn’t mean lowering expectations. We should have high expectations for ALL children however we must accept that this means different things for different children. Not a ‘C’ grade for all. This is unrealistic and puts unrealistic pressure on teachers and schools to try to achieve. Teaching for the exam is rife and necessary for the survival of some teachers in their jobs.

Education needs to be a system where teachers and schools are accountable, however not for students learning the kings and queens of England, but for preparing children for their life ahead and to make a positive contribution to our country,whilst hopefully enjoying the process, rather than it being a constant game of numbers and tables.


Dawn Cox

Secondary teacher

* Some of whom do a fantastic job on little time, training and resources

‘I’d like to see them teach an outstanding lesson’ – Teacher responses to observation


‘I bet they can’t teach an outstanding lesson’

Comments like this are starting to annoy me. It seems to be a reaction to anyone that observes, for whom teaching isn’t an everyday occurrence.


The problem is, comments like these don’t get us anywhere.

The Critical Thinking teacher in me thinks it is going into the realms of ‘Ad Hominem’ (attacking the arguer instead of their ‘argument’), which is flawed logic. In many cases it is based on the assumption that this person cannot achieve an ‘outstanding’ lesson themselves, and therefore the judgement they make on the lesson isn’t valid. And finally, ‘Tu Quoque’ is implied to justify a low grade from the observed (basing ones actions on those of another) i.e it’s ok that I got a 4 because they can’t get a 1.

None of these provide solid reasoning why a particular person shouldn’t observe them.

The question is ‘Does it matter?’

  • Does an observer have to be able to teach perfectly themselves in order to evaluate the performance of someone else?
  • If so, how could this work?
  • Should they have to ‘prove’ it to the person being observed?
  • Does this apply to ALL people who observe lessons? Internal and external?


Firstly, it would seem that teachers want someone credible to watch them and evaluate their teaching (interesting to note a Twitter conversation this morning about students observing, but that’s a whole different blog in itself!). They want to know that what this person is saying they are saying because they know it and have experienced it for themselves.

I mostly agree with this however do believe that there are professionals who have the knowledge about teaching and learning to support and advise but don’t necessarily teach (or have relatively recently taught) outstanding lessons. Think about the advisors, consultants and ‘famous’ educational speakers schools invite in to speak on INSET days. When did they last have full ownership of a class and be responsible for the classes performance and outcomes? But schools still pay them thousands of pounds because what they ‘say’ is knowledgable, comes from experience and rings true. They might not have actually taught for years but we give them credibility for this enhanced expertise.

So if people insist that the person watching them is an outstanding practitioner, how would this ever work?

Internal observations

This would seem to be the easiest to fulfil. A school would have the rule:

‘You can’t observe any other teacher unless you have been observed teaching an outstanding lesson in the past X weeks/months’.


Let’s think about the practicalities of this.

A highly respected colleague of mine, suggested that SLT should have an ‘open door’ policy on their lessons and that these should be models of good practice. All SLT therefore would have to be outstanding teachers. Shouldn’t be a problem, but what about those that don’t teach? Some Heads do not teach. Would you make them teach a random lesson? Does that count? Surely cynics would then say ‘Its easy to pull off ONE lesson, how about teaching a full timetable?’. In fact this is the same for all SLT. Many teachers claim the reason that they do not teach consistently outstanding lessons is due to the pressures of time. Doing a ‘one off’ lesson isn’t enough to prove you are an outstanding teacher over time.


But it’s not just SLT that teach. What about all the observations for trainees, NQTs, PM, peer and departmental? These could only be done by outstanding teachers. Some schools would be fine. Others would probably not get any observations done at all!

External observers

The big problem.

How can practising Ofsted inspectors ‘prove’ they are an outstanding practitioner?

I believe that the Ofsted agencies are looking for new recruits who are currently working in a school. Note, currently working in a school, not currently teaching! Maybe this recruitment could balance teacher’s desires to have someone who seems more credible watching them.

It is also very interesting to note that @kennygfrederick told me that these agencies will not accept SLT applicants that have worked in a school which has been in a category. This is fascinating (another blog!) but I’m not sure if it is an effective solution to making inspectors more credible. Some of the best practitioners are drafted into schools that are inadequate so to tar them seems incredibly unfair. Just because someone works in a successful school does not necessarily make them credible in observation, especially if their responsibility in school isn’t directly linked to observations.


In a discussion with @RoyWatson-Davis, we highlighted that ASTs and Excellent teachers seem to have the perfect credentials for observing. The problem is, that if you start taking out the best teachers from schools to observe and inspect, what happens to the overall standards in schools? The whole point of an AST was to stay in the classroom.

Would we have enough Ofsted inspectors if we put in measures to ensure they are outstanding practitioners? How would we ‘test’ them? Is a ‘one off’ outstanding acceptable or do they need to get an outstanding once a week or once a month? It seems that to actually implement this would be incredibly laborious.

Does it matter?

If we look to other professions and practices that may involve some form of observation it would seem not.

alex ferguson

Can Alex Ferguson play football for 90 mins, scoring goals and/or defending his half? Probably not, but he knows what a good player ‘looks like’. He knows what makes a good player, the skills required and how to develop these in an individual. He has the expertise and credibility needed and so it doesn’t matter if he can’t actually play himself. His observational skills are so refined he can probably pick out the small things that players do that make them an overall good or bad player.

I’m not sure this situation is completely analogous but gives some support to the suggestion that maybe someone that observes does not need to be outstanding themselves or at least doesn’t have to show it, to be credible.

The solution?

The problem is, I don’t think the people who use these phrases really care if the observer can teach an outstanding lesson or not. It’s used as a defensive phrase. Even if an observer were to turn up with copies of their own outstanding lesson observations I still think they’d make a different reason to criticise their credibility.

Essentially it comes down to people not liking observations and this comes from bad experiences, almost certainly where ‘outstanding’ hasn’t been achieved or the observer has caused stress or upset.

So my solution is, if you’re working in a school and you organise observations bear in mind that observers should be credible in teaching and learning in some way.

As to Ofsted, the same applies with everything else they do, you just have to ‘put up’ with it.