As detailed by Old Andrew here, I attended a meeting with the new National Director for Schools Policy, Sean Harford in Birmingham on Friday 25th July. This had followed a series of telephone calls and emails in which I provided “free consultancy” on Ofsted’s new Inspection Handbook.
Whatever your ideological stripe, whatever your beliefs about the purpose of education, everybody can, I hope, agree that reforming Ofsted is in everyone’s best interest. During the past month Sean has “taken a scythe” to the 500+ pages of subsidiary and subject specific guidance to produce a slimmed down document that will be useful to inspectors, and that while schools should be aware of it, it should not be seen as in any way prescriptive. And here it is.
Now, I’ve only had a hand in the guidance on Quality of Teaching, but here are some of the highlights:

Inspectors should not grade the quality of teaching in individual lesson observations, learning walks or equivalent activities. In arriving at a judgement on the overall quality of teaching, inspectors must consider strengths and weaknesses of teaching observed across the broad range of lessons. These must then be placed in the context of other evidence of pupils’ learning and progress over time, including work in their books and folders, how well pupils can explain their knowledge and understanding in subjects, and outcomes in tests and examinations.

This is pretty specific that teaching cannot be graded in one-off observations. The battle has been very much won on this point and the trial that ran in the Midlands throughout June and July will become policy from September.

Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. School leaders and teachers should decide for themselves how best to teach, and be given the opportunity, through questioning by inspectors, to explain why they have made the decisions they have and provide evidence of the effectiveness of their choices. Moreover, inspectors must not inspect, or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework or this handbook. For example, they should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time. It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to expect that all work in all lessons will be matched to the specific needs of each individual pupil. Inspectors should not expect to see periods of pupils working on their own, or in groups in all lessons, and should not make the assumption that this is always necessary, desirable or even effective, which would clearly depend on the quality and challenge of the work set. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly expected to sit and listen to teachers, which of itself is an ‘active’ method through which knowledge and understanding can be acquired effectively. Inspectors should not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding. When observing teaching, inspectors should be ‘looking at’ and reflecting on the effectiveness of what is being done to promote learning, not ‘looking for’ specific or particular things. Inspectors should gather robust evidence to judge and report on how well pupils acquire knowledge, learn well and engage with lessons.

Some of this will be familiar from the subsidiary guidance from last year, but the sections in bold are some of the points of which I feel particularly proud. There is now clear and unambiguous guidance that inspectors should not make assumptions about what they have observed, but ask teacher for clarification bout why decisions have been made. Obviously, if teachers can’t provided satisfactory answers to questions about their practice, they should expect to be given short shrift.
‘Independent learning’ has been changed to individual and group work. Robert Peal made the point in his Civitas report that ‘group work’ was the only ‘preferred Ofsted-style’ activity that is still explicitly praised in 2014 reports – hopefully, this will go some way to remedying that.
I’m particularly pleased that ‘passivity’ has been unpicked and the point that listening is recognised as being as active as any other form of learning. And I’m also chuffed that my suggestion that inspectors should be ‘looking at’ rather than ‘looking for’ has made the cut.
The other change which I think is important is this one:

Inspectors’ direct observation must be supplemented by a range of other evidence to enable inspectors to evaluate what teaching is like typically and the impact that teaching has had on pupils’ learning over time. Such additional evidence may include:

  • the school’s own evaluations of the quality of teaching and its impact on learning
  • discussions with pupils about the work they have undertaken, what they have learned from it and their experience of teaching and learning over longer periods
  • discussion about teaching and learning with teachers, teaching assistants and other staff
  • the views of pupils, parents and staff
  • scrutiny of pupils’ work, with particular attention to:
    • whether marking, assessment and testing are carried out in line with the school’s policy and if they are used effectively to help teachers improve pupils’ learning
    • the level of challenge provided, and whether pupils have to grapple appropriately with content, not necessarily ‘getting it right’ first time, which could be evidence that the work is too easy

This makes it abundantly clear that it is for schools to decide on their own marking, feedback and assessment policies and that there should be no ‘preferred Ofsted marking style’. I’m also pleased with the inclusion of ‘struggle’ as evidence of learning.
As Andrew has said in his blog, the tone of the meeting was frank, forthright, and Sean was open, entirely reasonable and more than willing to listen. He seemed genuinely interested in Andrew’s ideas to make the inspection process more reliable, and I look forward to hearing more on this subject.
Personally, I feel it’s a shame Ofsted are determined to retain the Quality of Teaching judgment, but if we have to have it, at least it’s now solidly sensible.
But before we get too excited, Ofsted are still capable of entertaining some potentially silly ideas. Some topics up for discussion over the next few months are:

  • Should we have genuinely ‘no notice’ inspections with schools not even receiving a warning telephone call. Sean was interested in our thoughts on this and we all agreed that notice periods, no matter how short, mainly serve to add unnecessarily to ordinary teachers’ stress levels.
  • Should we have a new “exceptional’ grade to recognise schools that go out of their way to spread excellent practice and support other schools. I think no: the 4 point grading system already has a warping effect and, as Policy Exchange’s report suggested, The outstanding grade should require evidence of outreach work.
  • Should there be a new ‘curriculum’ category to add to the judgements made on leadership and management, behaviour and safety, quality of teaching and attainment? I’m not sure about this one – my instinct is that we should be reducing what Ofsted report on rather than creating new things for schools to panic about.
  • And most excitingly, there may well be opportunities for ‘ordinary’ classroom teachers, not just SLT, to be seconded to Ofsted for temporary periods. This is something which has the potential for having a massively positive impact on both teachers and Ofsted alike.

Sean and Mike Cladingbowl will be keen to speak to teachers about these points (as well as others I’m sure) from September.

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School leaders, take note… (In light of the updated handbook for Ofsted Inspectors.) by @cazzypot