How OFSTED needs to change

OFSTED, the English schools inspectorate, has gone through a rough few years. Not that long ago it acted like an enforcement arm for a particular teaching philosophy. Inspectors would visit lessons and grade them at one of four levels. They expected to see lots of group work and penalised too much teacher led instruction.

Pretty much singlehandedly, blogger Andrew Old got them to stop the more egregious practices through a series of widely-read, analytical blog posts. It was a messy business that saw OFSTED issue new guidance to its inspectors and even cancel its contracts with the ‘additional’ inspectors who were not directly employed by the organisation. Inspectors no longer grade individual lessons and reports are generally less overtly supportive certain teaching styles.

Thanks to the work of Rob Coe who has summarised the research on the topic, we now know that lesson observations are not valid; at least not in the way that OFSTED used them. However, I do believe they can tell you something. They can tell you if the wheels have fallen off, for instance. So here is my plan for the future of OFSTED; a plan that would make it much better.

1. Each school logs it’s teaching staff, their qualifications and what they teach as part of its ongoing self evaluation. This is available remotely to OFSTED.

2. A team of inspectors formulates a number of hypotheses based upon available data.

3. Inspectors turn up unannounced. They visit classes of subjects where the data suggests some success and classes where it suggests less success and look for any patterns.

4. They visit classes of new teachers or substitute teachers. In particular, they look to see if basic levels of behaviour are in place, whether students complete the tasks that they are given, are respectful and safe.

5. None of these lessons are graded but if a number are below a minimum acceptable standard then this is seen as a reflection of the whole school policy on behaviour management and support and training of staff.

6. Inspectors also survey the physical environment; litter, graffiti and so on. If there is a school uniform then how is it worn?

7. Subject specialists interview teachers about their subject and pedagogical knowledge. For instance, primary teachers might be asked about phonics or how you might teach two digit multiplication. There would be a particular focus on teachers who are teaching outside of their subject specialism.

8. Any concerns would be followed up with a second visit before the report is written.

9. The four overall grades would be scrapped in favour of a pithy summary paragraph of about 200 words that is prominent on the OFSTED website. Schools could be marked as ‘some concerns’ or ‘no concerns’ with the former bringing special measures.

I think that this would lead to the collection of more valid evidence that would better inform parents and policy makers.


8 thoughts on “How OFSTED needs to change

      1. Several others put in their two penn’orth back in February 2014, when Five Went Down to Ofsted Towers to meet Mike Cladingbowl: (The original Ofsted Five were Tom Bennett, Ross McGill, David Didau, Tom Sherrington and Shena Lewington)

        One outcome from that meeting in 2014 was the welcome clarification from MC about inspectors not giving individual lesson grades. See also: in which Tom Sherrington describes the “main outcome of that meeting”. He wrote: “The OfSTED Game Has Changed. Lesson Observation Grades Are Over.

        Officially, this isn’t news. It’s been implied in the new framework for a while. However, for various reasons, the message has not been getting across. There are still elements of the written guidance that have yet to be fully aligned and, naturally enough, there are inspectors who have not fully taken on board the significance of the guidance. Mike Cladingbowl has been updating guidance to inspectors to make this more and more explicit – with evident frustration at how difficult this has been.”

        I believe at the time, Andrew Old was not “out” and perhaps for that reason had not been invited to attend the bloggers meeting.

  1. There are two other areas which an external inspectorate might usefully report on – whether it should be Ofsted or not is up for grabs. The first would be staff training and development including the destinations of teaching staff who leave the school – is the school contributing positively to recruitment and retention of good teachers? The second would be highlighting areas of exceptional practice which might provide a learning resource for other schools wanting to improve. That could be a star department in an otherwise mediocre school, or a whole school approach, or a highly successful implementation of a standard tool where most implementations are proving ineffective.

    Both hold the school to account not simply for their own local results, but for their contribution to the system of education. Schools which operate slash and burn on cheap young teachers, for example, as rumours suggest some do, should be held to account, whatever their local results, because the results are being achieved at others’ expense. And in any self-improving system we need systematic sharing of good practice.

  2. Wasn’t the research of Dr Matt O’Leary — and his book Classroom Observation — the most influential in changing Ousted’s use of graded observations? Rob Coe, after all, didn’t conduct any research himself in this area.

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