The ‘do they/don’t they’ buggers’ muddle of whether or not Ofsted inspectors are supposed to grade lessons hasn’t really been put to rest. Schools’ National Director, Mike Cladingbowl’s attempts at clarification have only really served to underline some of the inconsistencies. The crux of the situation as it stands is that while inspectors are not supposed to judge the overall lesson “it is still possible for an inspector to record a graded evaluation on an evidence form under one or more of the four main judgement headings, including teaching”. This clumsy compromise is encapsulated in the Evaluation Form used by inspectors to record judgements:
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And here’s a worked example tweeted by Sapuran Gill:
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While it’s true that there’s nowhere to record an overall grade for the lesson observed, there are spaces for inspectors to record a grade on Achievement of pupils, Quality of teaching, Behaviour and safety of pupils and Leadership and management. Who in their right mind will not understand a grade awarded against Quality of teaching as a grade of their teaching? The distinction is so subtle it almost begs to be misunderstood.
Mike Cladingbowl is well aware of the problem. He says, “But this is categorically not the same as judging a teacher, or even the teaching, and especially not a lesson overall, by evaluating the performance of the teacher in a lesson or a part of a lesson.” OK, if you say so. But it certainly looks pretty damn similar. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck, right? Wrong: “Making a judgement about the quality of teaching, based on a wide variety of evidence gathered in the classroom and elsewhere, is not the same as judging how well a teacher performed.” It may not be exactly the same, but it really isn’t different enough.
The fact that inspectors have needed quite so much clarification and guidance over the past few weeks speaks of a wide-scale and systemic lack of nuance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about all the clarification, I think it’s great that Ofsted are taking this so seriously. But as any teacher knows, just giving kids the same explanation over and over doesn’t usually change their understanding. And it definitely doesn’t change their behaviour. What’s needed is a change that clears the fog once and for all. That change might be as simple as redesigning the Evaluation Form.
What if we did away with the bit where it says “Use for grades”? What if inspectors were only allowed to use evidence from lesson observations to make a cumulative grade for quality of teaching across a whole school? What if they used this evidence to record only what they observed and then teased out a judgement through discussion, questioning of assumptions and careful thought? Lead inspector, Mary Myatt refers to this idea as a ‘panopticon’ – an attempt to make holistic judgements rather than lots of little ones which we’re told are not to be aggregated. If they’re not to aggregated, what’s the point of them?
Tantalisingly, Cladingbowl concludes his clarification with this rather exciting possibility:

…if instructing inspectors to feed back on the range of evidence used to arrive at a judgement without giving a numerical teaching ‘grade’ would help, or even removing the grade for teaching on the evidence form altogether, then I am prepared to consider it. We might, for instance, just ask inspectors to note all their evidence gathered about teaching, and then bring it all together at the end of the inspection in a plenary before discussing the single overall judgement on teaching with the school.

This is exactly what we need! It would clearly signal the end to confusion and would set an excellent example to schools that judging the effectiveness of teachers and lessons isn’t possible in a 20-25 minute snapshot.
So there we are: the battle lines are drawn for the next skirmish in the war against lesson gradings. Our next objective is a redesign of the Evaluation Form.

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