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.