Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why lessons will continue to be graded (whether reported or not)

Who grades individual lessons using the recently (supposedly) canned OFSTED language? I am compiling a list:

1. SLT's (mine included, still)
2. Consultants
3. Those assessing a student in ITT
4. SIPs (if you have them)
5. OFSTED inspectors

Ah you cry - number 5 doesn't happen anymore. Well sorry, but it does, as the numerous tweets last week to Tom Bennett proved. But that is not important, what is important is how we get rid of this grading, whether written down or not. I would argue that this will be impossible, at least in the short term. Its a case of embedded practice in my opinion and it will not be changing soon. The issue is this: for years bad SLT's have scrabbled to please OFSTED. They have observed and regurgitated the good bits from 'outstanding' schools' reports. This has led to a culture of poor and reactionary teaching becoming embedded across the country. Thousands (probably millions) of pounds have been spent on  hiring consultants in order to change teachers so they please OFSTED. As a result, the idea that you can have a good lesson without ticking all the 'OFSTED' boxes is beyond most teachers and most people in education.

The main problem is that SLT's are packed full of people who have no business in being managers. They are not trained to manage people and have no idea how to do it. But that is not the main point. This is the fact that these people have been promoted in and enforced this culture over the past decade. Take this away and what can these people do? If you need any evidence that SLT's are generally not up to the job, see the panic caused by the new curriculum and the binning of levels. Has your school come up with anything different for September? I suspect not. The majority of SLT members are completely out of their depth trying to come up with something new and dynamic. Why? Because they have become technocrats, enforcing the doctrine of OFSTED to the letter, with no thought as to why this was happening. How individual teachers achieve great results has become unimportant, more important is that the style of their teaching pleases inspectors (regardless of results). It is a mindset issue too. SLT's will continue to use the language of OFSTED in making judgements about teachers, both to insiders and outsiders. Judgements will continue to be made on teachers through lessons observations too, until SLT's realise that 3x1hr observations per year is not a good strategy for assessing teaching ability.

Most of them have gained their status by being 'outstanding'. There are obviously exceptions, but google education consultants and find one without the word 'outstanding' on their page. Go on. They sell outstanding teaching from the old framework. Now they should have nothing to sell. Anyone expect them to wither and disappear? Nope, I thought not.

ITT providers
Mr Beach got an outstanding grade for his first year in tough young teachers, but his results weren't good. I REST MY CASE. We had a student at our school who couldn't spell and who couldn't write comments in books in the correct tense. She left us with a 'good'. Why? Because in her observations her tutor observed her as good. In fact, as far as I can make out, all students' marks depend on performing in these one off lessons. This is obviously a problem, because you cannot possibly show progress over time in a 6/8 week placement. Perhaps the cure is to have all ITT providers give students longer placements in order to allow for another measure of their ability. It appears the whole system is based on the OFSTED individual lesson grading system and a few essays. I expect this to continue.

We have one, most don't. We are destined for a visit from ours on the 6th March. I am being observed by her from 10.45-11.10. Yep 25 minutes. Yep like a mock OFSTED. Yep, we will be graded. Yep, I am doing an activity that will have no teacher input in order to subvert this process. I guess the same applies to these people as the above categories.

We have created a culture of appraisal and teaching centred around lesson grading. I still read comments on twitter from head teachers saying they will continue to grade individual lessons, despite the guidance. These people know no different. They are convinced you can judge a teacher on an individual lesson, despite the huge evidence to the contrary. They will still do it. Teachers will still do it - the moment you get an observation in the diary, you start planning a stupid lesson for it. Consultants will still peddle "outstanding" teaching ideas for one-off lessons. ITT providers will still grade individual student using the OFSTED parameters. And I also expect inspectors to do the same. They will still judge individual teachers and it will still impact their judgement of the school, even if they can't use it anymore as a stick to beat teachers with. I also suspect that the defunct official OFSTED pedagogy will also influence judgements.

It is a sorry state of affairs and is likely here to stay for a long time. No amount of back of the fag packet, on-the-hoof policy announcements/statements by OFSTED will change this.

* I realise there are a lot of inverted commas in this post. They are used deliberately.


  1. The post-compulsory education ITT team at the University of Wolverhampton DOES NOT use the Ofsted grading scale. We never have done nor ever will. We simply assess our student teachers on a pass/fail basis. We are seen as something of a maverick in Ofsted's eyes and faced a battle when inspected last year as we did the previous time in 2010 but we held firm and won the argument. That is largely because our philosophy is based on a clear set of values/principles about how best to nurture new teachers and is also informed by solid empirical research on the use and impact of graded lesson observations on teachers working in the further education (FE) sector.

    Please pass the message on that we don't all tow the Ofsted line!

    Matt O'Leary

  2. Thanks for the comment and sorry the blog didn't mention you. I was unaware this happened. I am happy to hear this is the case. I would hope others will follow your lead, and good luck getting the message out.

  3. Thanks Rich. Didn't expect you or many others outside of Ofsted to be aware of that to be honest, though ironically we are 'infamous' in Ofsted's eyes for bucking the trend!

  4. You will now be seen as trailblazers!

  5. Yes. A complete re-think of accountability is required, and Ofsted must be replaced with a post-Ofsted accountability structure that prevents such practices. Ofsted have tried to claim that they have not called for these things and are not responsible for them. This is not tenable....they may have been unintended consequences, but the root is how Ofsted has behaved. No documentation from Ofsted will undo this, in my opinion.