In amongst all the “we’re not grading lessons any more…in fact, we haven’t for a long time (even though all the teachers who’ve been inspected recently have had their lessons graded)” fuss this half term, there was another mini-farrago when Ofsted published a Good practice resource – Engaging and inspiring learners in English, especially at Key Stage 3. It was a decent resource, full of great ideas for engaging and inspiring learners, and the results indicate that Priestnall School are doing something right. David Didau, amongst others, cried foul:
So, as we know, Sir Michael Wilshaw is determined to make clear that Ofsted has no preferred teaching style. Right? Wrong.
I recognise the argument that Ofsted publishing a “good practice resource” does create a conflict with the “no preferred teaching style” stance taken by the Chief Inspector. This is largely due to the thrall in which the all-powerful inspectorate holds the profession – the panopticon effect described by Kev Bartle. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In a previous role I was head of an Ofsted Outstanding English Department. Following a full inspection in January 2009, we were visited for a good practice subject survey in the summer term. All very lovely! However, the real evidence that Ofsted were interested in more than just inspection came when I was invited to the Department for Education and Skills (as it was then) the following term for a best practice day. Ofsted and the DfES had gathered together all the English subject leaders from every school where outstanding English teaching had been observed over the previous two years. Primary, secondary, tertiary, special, PRU, rural, urban, church, comprehensive – all gathered together to address the four key areas identified in the 2009 English at the Crossroads paper:
- Independent learning in English: helping pupils to think for themselves
- Assessment in English: building on good marking
- Boys and English: how the best schools make a difference
- How can standards of writing be improved?
It was a brilliant day. I was inspired, humbled, and overawed by turns. It was like the greatest English-focused TeachMeet in pre-TeachMeet days. Both Ofsted and the DfES seemed genuinely interested in capturing best practice and disseminating it nationwide. The project eventually became the Excellence in English paper and informed Moving English Forward in 2012. It was also a missed opportunity to create a network – there was no delegate list, no contact information, and no follow-up.
A lot has changed since 2009. Skills have been banished from the parliamentary letterhead, the National Strategies are gone, and local authority networks have fragmented as schools have embraced the independence of academy status. Gone are the days when practice could be shared between local schools through a literacy consultant or school improvement advisor (I realise that quality in these roles were variable, but the ones I worked with were, by and large, excellent). Twitter and blogging are great enablers of peer-to-peer sharing, and teaching school alliances may also help. But Ofsted go into so many schools, in every conceivable context, all over the country. Their inspectors must see some brilliant practice from teachers who have never read a tweet. I recognise that their primary focus is summative and evaluative, but it seems a wasted opportunity not to do more with that evidence base. The potential is there to build up a truly formidable bank of what works in schools.
That doesn’t mean that it’s going to work in my school. I know that – I’m a professional and I can make that decision. But I’d rather have the library of what Ofsted have seen available – there may be something that they’ve seen that will help solve a problem in my context. If Ofsted can clarify that they don’t grade lessons or teachers, but they can find evidence in a lesson to inform a grade for teaching overall, then I’m sure we can see their best practice examples with the same clarity. Here’s what worked for someone else. Have a look and see what you think…