A few days a go after reading and retweeting this blog post from @cazzypot on the ongoing vagaries and inconsistencies of Ofsted, A head of MFL at a school in Hounslow got in touch to let me know how dissatisfied she was were here recent experience of the inspectorate. What follows is an edited version of the email she sent me.
Ofsted visited my new school in April this year, a week after they had ‘done’ my previous school. Former colleagues told me of unfair grading despite the fact that inspectors have been instructed not to grade individual lessons.
The first day of the inspection just came and went. Nobody on the front line. But on the second day I was seen twice. The first observation came in Period 1 and was a joint observation with an inspector and my headteacher. The feedback in the headteacher’s office lasted longer than the actual observation.
I had to justify every single choice of activity, assessment for learning strategies used in class and in the books. I was also questioned on why my “high quality marking” changed from January.
Eventually, my refection on learner voice partnership and moving away from www/ebi to “learning challenge” was welcomed and accepted and, after 35 gruelling minutes of feedback, I was given the nod and told, “Yes, we can now agree your lesson was outstanding.” This experience left me relieved, but frustrated.
Later, at the start of lesson 4, the lead inspector, Peter McGregor*, walked into my Year 12 French lesson. Twice in the same morning? Really? I explained that 4 of my students were at a UCAS conference and that the lesson I had planned to provide intervention support for some of my struggling students.
He scrutinised everything, and disrupted the dynamic of the debate we had in class by asking questions of my Consortium students. “How is it here compared to your other school?” he asked one girl.
When I went for feedback he told me, “You had some reluctant speakers, but you made them speak and gave them all the techniques they needed to improve. There was definitely progress but I cannot say it was outstanding as 4 of your students were not there and I was unable to see the full potential of your class.”
I questioned this and said that the other students (one of them on free school meals) were all meeting or exceeding their targets.
He replied, “Oh, I can see that through your data yes, but on this observation I can only judge on what I saw.” What he saw was 5 Consortium students making excellent and rapid progress in speaking and debating. I have literally no idea how the judgement that my lesson was ‘good’ can be justified.
The governors challenged the judgement. The inspection team could only reply by stating, “This does not take away the fact that your MFL faculty is a highlight in excellence and leadership.”
I suppose the governors were happy with that. But I’m not and I’m the head of MFL.
Ofsted to me are paperclip pushers. They shout out words like ‘consistency’, ‘fairness; and ‘rigour’, and yet they seem the most inconsistent, unfair and harsh organisation it’s ever been my misfortune to encounter.
As Mother Theresa said, “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.” Ofsted, it’s time to do some sweeping, but not under the carpet this time please.
Now, as you know, Ofsted have been really trying to clean up their act of late. Mike Cladingbowl, the National Director for Schools has issues very clear guidance to inspectors on what they should and shouldn’t be doing and this guidance is, helpfully, available on the Ofsted website.
On 24th February, following a meeting with me and a few other bloggers, Mike published the following clarification on the issue of grading lessons: Why do Ofsted inspectors observe individual lessons and how do they evaluate teaching in schools?. Also, on 4th April they published further Subsidiary guidance supporting the inspection of maintained schools and academies which categorically states on page 18:
65. When in lessons, inspectors should also remember that they are gathering evidence about a variety of aspects of provision and outcomes. Inspectors are not simply observing the features of the lesson but they are gathering evidence about a range of issues through observation in a lesson. Inspectors should not focus on the lesson structure at the expense of its content or the wide range of other evidence about how well children are learning in the school.
66. When giving feedback, inspectors must not argue that they are unable to give a particular grade because of the time spent in the lesson.
Admittedly, this guidance was published 2 days after the school’s inspection took place, but it was just reiterating the very clear guidance that had been published in December 2013 and February 2014. As far as I can see, there can be no justification for the inspector’s comments, feedback or judgement.
Ofsted often state that schools are free to make complaints but that very few do so. In this case, why would the school complain? They were judged good in every category. But this merely disguises the fact that inspectors continue to do whatever the hell they want. As long as Wilshaw permits such rogue inspectors as this to lead inspections we can have no faith in the reliability of inspection judgements or in Ofsted as an organisation. Sort it out.
* The inspector’s name has been withheld at the request of the contributor. He is an additional inspector working for Tribal. He is a specialist in science and maths. Name supplied on request.