Ofsted have just released their revised guidance for inspections, it can be found here: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/revised-guidance-for-inspections-of-maintained-schools-and-academies
One of the areas that I am not happy about is the fact that inspections will:
- no longer record on evidence forms a grade on the quality of teaching for individual lesson observations;
So there it is, the end of being given an individual grade for your teaching after your lesson observation. The majoirty of the teaching world will probably be rejoicing about this and we'll inevitably see them posting their joy on GuardianTeach under 'How are teachers relaxing over the summer holidays?' but I won't be jumping over any moon.
Ofsted are still going to have to give an overall judgement on the quality of teaching in the school so they are still going to have to keep notes so they can collate various observations and make an informed decision. I think it would be naive to think that although they won't be writing information on 'evidence forms' they will still have to take jottings. If the overall quality of teaching in a school is still going to be decided through 'Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate' I can't believe that Ofsted are not going to keep track of in which category they think particular lessons fall into.
So you have to ask yourself the question, if Ofsted are going to keep track then why can't that be communicated to us?
The main argument comes from a progressive style of teaching. Do you want to be labelled as a particular grade or do you want feedback that highlights your strengths and weaknesses and allows you to reflect upon it and improve as a teacher? I'm sure you're leaping in the air pointing at the latter, I would say why can't we have both? I know I'm being judged by you Mr. Inspector and you know what, I know the grade criteria, I know I am good but not outstanding and I can take being told that like a grown-up. I don't want it wrapped in the gift-wrap of educational cliches and potential misinterpretations. I want a constructive conversation and that starts will the benchmark I work by, Ofsted work by, my Performance Related Pay works by. I don't have time for misinterpretation by all of those. I think a grade is a good starting point, no one is under any illusion what you are, you're not exchanging Morse Code winks to ask if you're a 1, 2 or 3 or heaven forbid a short wink, short wink, short wink, long wink. You want to trust that because they've seen hundreds of lessons, they are better at judging yours than yourself and although that may get a few cries of naivety, in my experience it is generally true.
It also filters down into the practice of the school. If Ofsted no longer give grades, then low and behold I'm sure your appraiser won't be giving them. Have some courage, I've taught lessons during observations when I did require improvement and the observer didn't bake me a plate of cookies, sit me down on a cushion and begin on passive-aggressive feedback, they told me straight that it wasn't good enough and that I needed to improve considerably. We are dealing with children, they are the most important element of our school and if I'm failing them I need to be told. I need a frank conversation about the areas that will have the biggest impact on their learning and I need to be told to get on and do it now. I don't want a few targets here and there so that by the end of my appraisal at the end of the year I've systematically failed a cohort of children, I want clear and unwavering guidance. Ofsted can give this, yes you hope they'll be impartial, you hope that if they do have a preferred teaching style it doesn't affect their judgement - but yes they are only human and they'll make mistakes (hopefully not during my observation) - but I trust that they have the interests of the children at heart and if they give me a 3 and give me 5 areas that will drastically help my children to learn then I am happy for it. No one is bigger than the learning that needs to take place, not my pride, not anything.
My school this year has trialed the no grade approach to feedback and the consensus is that it: wastes time while the observer tries to say it was good without saying the word good or any synonym of good, it degrades the teacher as a professional (can we take it? Apparently not) but most importantly, it impedes the constructive dialogue that is needed to improve standards. If you can't even say what grade it was, how are you going to confront deep-rooted issues in my teaching style, how are we going to have a productive conversation?
So I say, give it to us straight! I want you to tell me what I am and then we can talk about why. I can then trust you to give me purposeful criticism. Taking away grades sounds a lot like protecting the teachers feelings and that is fine unless it is detrimental to the dialogue that will drive improvement of education in our schools.
So when I sit opposite an Ofsted inspector I shall be asking - "Please Sir, ca
This stems from a staff meeting we had a few weeks ago regarding changes to our school curriculum. It took the standard format, what we're doing well, what we could do to improve (I'll save my gripes about staff training and INSETs for another time) A few questions were raised about the direction of the new curriculum in September. What then preceded to happen reminded me of a Roman Senate (factions sticking firmly to party lines: Early Years, KS1 and KS2 - as if they represented the Julii, Scipii and Brutii families) Some people had an informed opinion, some people merely made noise as if appearing silent meant appearing incompetent, some people looked longingly at the time-locked-door, some people kicked themselves for not bringing books to mark and the leadership were trying every remembered Lewin's Leadership Style they could think of.
What appeared to have started off as an encouraging discussion about the benefits and shortcomings of the new curriculum, eagerly willed on by the democratic leadership of our Deputy Headteacher, soon required a bit of authoritarian leadership from the Head Teacher when discussion moved onto a change in school ethos and what direction the school improvement plan should take. The staff meeting petered out somewhat and a laissez-Faire conclusion was adopted which left the school with more questions than answers.
It got me thinking...as teachers, what do we actually want from leadership?
I came to the conclusion that effective leadership in schools should help teachers with a series of issues.
TIme. Can middle managers, senior leaders save teachers time? We've all sat through staff meetings, INSETs, phase meetings, PPM meetings, curriculum meetings and we've all had in the back of our minds the various jobs to be completed so we can achieve the public's perception of 'Leaving by 3.30'. It seems to be the mood in the schools I've worked in that the leaders who are valued most are the ones that save you time. This might seem like an obvious point to make and I'm not saying that in order to be the best leader you have to mark my literacy books, I'm talking about issues that add to your everyday normal workload. Supporting you with parents, when a parent makes a complaint or wishes to see you, your leadership support you and take that problem off your hand. I want leadership that ensures the time you do have in front of the children is spent effectively and for their benefit. If you have leadership that spends its time buying you gifts, making an effort in thanks for all staff in everything they do - which is technically their job - then they don't have the time to do their own job. What happens when leaders don't have time for their own jobs? They get stressed and inevitably the undue stress gets passed down. I had a headteacher who used to give gifts to staff for 'working hard' this just caused more problems than it was worth, what constitutes 'hard work'?, jealousy from members of staff. All it preceded to achieve was the headteacher getting stressed about staff moral. So please don't look for our every whims, we're all grown up and professional and we know ourselves when we do a good job.
Trust. The very nature of schools nowadays is accountability and it is a very important and valuable part of how we as teachers operate. Problems occur when leaders move away from accountability and into the realms of a 'control freak'. Leaders should reduce bureaucracy and trust you as professionals so that you can be free to teach the children you have in front of you. They should trust that you know them, you want the best for them and that you know the best ways to achieve that. They should trust you to know when to ask for help. They should trust you with behaviour management. They should support your dealings with parents when you have to take a tough line with a particular class. They should make sure your authority is not undermined by sudden changes in the behaviour policy. A sudden introduction of not being able to keep children in at break or lunch is not going to maintain the standard of behaviour management and/ or standard of their work.
Lead. I think the most important thing we want from our leaders are people who will lead. They will take responsibility for the direction of the school. They will make sure that every member of staff is under no illusion as to where the school is headed. They are the models which show the school's ethos and they are the engines which drive school improvement. They make sure they are a strong body of people who have all bought into the direction the school is taking and believe it is genuinely needed. I think it is important to have leaders with different styles, ideas and motivations, but I don't believe any dirty laundry should be aired in public and certainly not aired during a staff meeting so every Tom, Dick and Harry can throw their own brand of washing powder at it. I don't want a senior leader who will send an e-mail at 5 am citing a new report by Ofsted and therefore the 10 point plan that should suffice in keeping them 'happy'. I want leadership who don't cower behind Ofsted, but leadership who take tough decisions and lead in the direction they know will be best for the children and the community we serve.
Professional leadership is not controlling, it is visionary, a drive and a force for exceptional standards for young people - if this isn't you, lead me alone.
You know the scene...you walk into the notoriously strict teacher's classroom and see ALL the children's heads down scribbling away. You think, well this is too good to be true, there must be a few children who were too scared to ask for clarification on the task while the teacher was swinging a childs pigtails around the room for missing a capital letter. But as fate wills, they all can give you perfectly formed answers rooted in their own progression through their learning. You sit down with your clipboard and all you can think about is the opening of the Holy Grail scene from Indiana Jones - your mind quickly races to the educational enlightenment equivalent of Neo in the Maxtrix. Have I just witnessed something? Why are there no angels singing and why does gravity still work?
I've had my fair share of deafening styles from different schools: my first placement, my second, head of year for my NQT year. So the question presents itself - if this teacher has such a revered reputation within the school, consistently getting the best results and recieving the most beautifully written speeches from year 6 leavers (some of which would make Churchill himself give up his spot for this new 'national hero') why did we ever move away from defeaning and wholeheartedly embrace nurturing?
Do you need a certain personalitiy to be able to pull off such a style? Is it only the teachers who sleep in the chokey, have the facial intimidation features of Mad-eye Moody, the pure evil of heart of Baron Samedi and spend their weekends making friends in Brixton Prison who can pull it off?
Does it require a voice capable of making Sergeant-Majors wish they'd never been born?
Much of the education world will say thats not the example we want to set, we want to show them a different way, a new way - one rooted in confidence and nurture. The rest will say we've lost high expectations, motivation and discipline. We know where the public, I mean the Daily Mail stands, but is it completely fair to judge this approach as of a different era when we knew not how to teach?
I don't know if we have a choice. Has Gove started what an envitable Conservative majority would continue? Are we to prepare ourselves for the resurgence of deafening teaching?
As thousands of teachers sing the educational equivalent of Auld Lang Syne and fall into taxis after the local pub's best day of business, the morning inevitably triggers thoughts of new beginnings.
You think back to the night before....
To try and stay awake as someone is talking at you about how Michael Gove's departure has meant they can finally get off the sleeping pills and enjoy your holiday, you decide to scan around the pub but unfortunately you're only met with cliches, such phrases as: 'Of all the years I've been teaching, I deserve these 6 weeks the most.' or 'Teaching's just not what it used to be.' or one of my particular favourites 'Now the children are gone, I can finally enjoy myself.'
You come off feeling that the world is against teaching, the profession has nothing going for it and you sign up to the nearest NUT summer camp you can find. On the way to martyring yourself you step outside and see people only just coming back from work, you realise the only reason you've drunk enough to stir thoughts of mass anarchy is because the job has allowed you to leave at 3.30. You subsequently let the fresh air sweep away thoughts of marrying Christine Blower and reflect on why the teaching profession has a habit of getting so toxic.
You've hardly had enough time to reflect and remember that you're actually at the pub at the end of term and should be enjoying yourself before you're joined by a colleague. You're relieved when the only thing they start complaining about it the fact that they 'Just can't stand people talking about school on a night out'. They then proceed to unwaveringly talk about school.
After several rounds of Jager-Bombs from your borderline geriatric collagues shouting to 'Drown the sorrows of the year' you stagger back home. You fall asleep and wake up thinking...
I'm sure next year will be different.