A good Ofsted experience but….


was it good because it had a positive outcome? Or because it IS a ‘good’ school? Is it causation or correlation or neither?

Can we separate out our emotional response to Ofsted’s judgement with our view of how the inspection was carried out?

I’ve never experienced an Ofsted like it or worked in a school who respond to inspection in this way. It was on a meeting agenda once in the weeks before. The item lasted 5 seconds. The deputy said ‘I have nothing to say about it. Do what you usually do’. This is in stark contrast to previous inspections in my career where the staff meeting the day before inspection is a ‘do this’ ‘do that’ ‘don’t do this’ ‘don’t do that’ format. I didn’t receive ONE email regarding how I should plan, that I should remember to include literacy, or any emails changing any preplanned events. The school was ready for the inspection. Not because everything it does is for Ofsted but because it would seem that the way it is run fulfils Ofsted’s ‘good’ criteria.

I was observed. I hated it of course. My style of teaching doesn’t fit observations but I think it was OK. However after the observation I didn’t have a member of SLT chasing after me with a clipboard asking me how it went (so they could add it to their spreadsheet to try and calculate the overall % of good lessons or even worse use it against me in the future). In fact no-one seemed bothered at all.

So is it because my school behaves this way that it is ‘good’? By definition if leaders are running around the school chasing after teachers is it probably struggling to improve? If you know your school, trust your staff and aren’t just ‘crossing your fingers’ on the day, does this probably equate to a decent school?

Can inspectors pick up on this? They must ‘feel’ the difference. The problem is that judgements cannot be made on feelings. (However I do have a strong belief that staff questionnaires should be made compulsory as they can provide solid evidence of school ethos)

I spoke with a couple of inspectors in different contexts. My experience was very different to previous inspections. It was all positive. Could it be possible that some inspectors are so depressed by what they’re seeing in 3/4 schools that their tone reflects this? Or was it positive because what is happening in the school overall positive? The reality is it must be tough for a team who can quite clearly see a school is a 4, into day two.

I know that Mike Cladingbowl in his previous role was beginning to change things. Was this inspection a result of a more positive, developed inspection process?
I’ve heard him say on more than one occasion that overall the inspection teams ‘get it right’. I agree with him. So where they don’t get it right, how many times has it been that they’ve ‘over’ graded?

I would love to know out of all the complaints that’s Ofsted get from schools about inspections what the grade of the school was before and after the inspection. I’m guessing that in very few cases complaints were made where:

* the grade went up
* the grade was Outstanding

It is natural to want to protect something we work hard for but do some leaders lack the ability to stand aside and see their school as it really is? Do leaders have the experience outside their own school to even realise how ‘good’ or ‘not so good’ their school is?

I’ve heard and read vociferous complaints about inspectors and inspections where schools have struggled. Can you point me to an article where the school has done better but is seriously unhappy with the inspection?

Is the 3/4 judgement too much for some people to take and are more ready to complain about the process?

As a result of all this, I believe that so much more needs to be done with schools that are 3/4. I personally do not agree however that core inspection should be different for different schools. It’s the level of intervention in between that should be different.

I see Sean Harford has proposed a new system of follow up inspections to start to try and quality assure judgements. Maybe I’m naive but I really can’t see there being many discrepancies. From more recent experience working in a 3/4 school is a completely different experience from a 2/1 school and I would imagine that the difficulty for inspectors lie in differentiating between a 3/4 and a 2/1 and not a 2/3.

So whilst I work in a school that has a label of ‘good’, I can honestly say that the label follows the reality. It’s a great school, run with humane leadership and I’m genuinely pleased to say that no-one has uttered the phrase so far ‘we’re working towards Outstanding’. We’re not. We’re just working on making things better.


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.



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.

From http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201112/what-dog-s-tail-wags-really-mean-some-new-scientific-data
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.

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.

What could OFSTED do differently?


Inspired by Stuart Lock’s post I’ve been thinking about what an Ofsted team could do in a school that might give a better picture of the school and what it is really like for the children that attend. I know time is limited in an inspection but I’m going for quality not quantity.

Here are a few suggestions:

Pre-inspection SLT report

Before Ofsted arrive the senior leaders should be told to write what they think the bullet points for improvement will be on this report I.e they know what Ofsted are going to say, they know what they need to do. Not a 20 page SEF. Just those bullet points. Seeing if they match or not should lead to further discussion.

Student trail

One inspector chooses one child. They are given all data about the child including all of their books, reports, SEND, all teacher data since they joined the school etc they the follow them for the day (possibly including break/lunch and if time is  a problem just the first and last part of each lesson). They should scrutinise all the data to see if it accurately reflects what they are seeing I.e if the school data system says they are working at level 5 in Science but the book and lesson don’t concur with this then there may be a problem.

They could then also speak with the child as much as they can without interrupting their learning and could interview them separately. This would be to try and triangulate what they read and seen about this student. They might also speak with their parent/guardian to further clarify if things match.

If there are long lessons they could possibly do this for two or three children during the day.

Interview staff

Not just teachers. Not just middle leaders. Not just those from core subjects. As many staff as possible (Not just one panel over two days). Ask them questions that will support or challenge all other data.

Make the teacher survey compulsory. Give a student survey as well. Make them electronic so they auto analyse. Publish the results to all staff.

Speak with the caretakers and cleaners.

One inspector should spend most of the two days doing this.

Interview students

Don’t allow the school to organise this. Speak with many many students. Not just a small group.

Speak with them at break and lunch.


Observations  still happen but without a grade. However if a teacher is observed they should be interviewed for 10 minutes BEFORE the lesson and 15 minutes after. Not to judge the lesson but to establish how their lesson fits into the whole picture. They should have to show their mark book. Tell the inspector about the class. Who they are concerned about. Who their vulnerable children are. What they are doing to intervene. How this lesson fits into their scheme. How they felt it went. How it links with school priorities . How it links to their development targets and the CPD they’ve had to support this. It’s not feedback by the inspector, it’s a discussion about the class & the teacher.

Then speak with leader who line manages the person observed. Ask them what they think was seen. Do they know their team? Ask them questions to see how they work with their team. Check if it all matches.

SLT should be seen teaching.

The inspector should use all this information to triangulate with other sources.

Does this usually happen?

Possibly the best question they should use throughout the inspection with everyone.

Stand at the front gate from 8am both days and at end of school both days

Speak to the students that are late. Ask why. Ask what happens to them because they are late but also ask other questions. These are the students who may be the voices that tell a different story.

Speak to parents dropping off/picking up.

Knock on a few local doors. Ask residents their views. Do they know what is going on at the school. If there is a problem is it dealt with quickly.

On reflection I think that some of these inspectors are supposed to do but my emphasis is the amount of time doing this instead of interviewing senior leaders, the people with the biggest vested interest in the school.

Pre-inspection documentation should give as much info as possible so the inspection is about triangulation. Triangulation with with those that didn’t write it.