My post on Thursday, Meeting OfSTED: The Game has Changed has blasted all my previous blog stats out of the water, heading for 50,000 views in three days. (Update: Now 80,000) It’s been an astonishing few days of questions and queries about the real meaning of what is going on. Mike Cladingbowl has published a clarification and even that has raised further questions. Having invited a group of us to meet him – on the basis of our blogged views on OfSTED – he even took pains to consult us on the content of the clarification. He wants to get it right; that’s what he said.
My interpretation of all of this is that Mike Cladingbowl has found himself in charge of a process that is widely misinterpreted and he is determined to change that. He seems to see the blog-world as an agent of change and a good way to get a message out (and he has made a commitment to consult more widely.) However, he can’t simply re-write the framework overnight; he can only issue guidance pending a more permanent change in the future, following consultation. Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear that the final paragraph of his article is where things are heading: the whole notion of grading is on the way out.
However, as David Didau has outlined very clearly in this post: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/ofsteds-evaluation-form-next-skirmish/, there is a fair amount of residual confusion. And until we get rid of all the thematic evidence grades, there will always be confusion. Any graded evidence that emerges from any lesson will be attributed to that teacher, whether people like it or not – even if it is not a judgement of that teacher or the lesson. I sense that Mike Cladingbowl is aware of this and will seek to change things as quickly as he can because, otherwise, this will rumble on and on.
Meanwhile, what do we do?
Even aside from the nuances of grades being given as general evidence or about a specific lesson, this discussion has underlined some crucial principles that schools should take heed of.
1. It is not meaningful to judge a lesson with a grade and, without any doubt at all, there is no such thing as an OfSTED-defined grade for a lesson.
2. It is not meaningful to evaluate the quality of teaching delivered by a teacher without triangulating lesson observations with other information: the quality of work in books, exam data and so on.
This suggests to me that some immediate actions are required in schools that have not already taken these steps:
- Stop grading lessons; at the very least, stop using ‘OfSTED Criteria’ for lesson grades.
- Remove references to lesson grades in all Performance Management protocols
- Remove references to lesson grades in any Performance Related Pay policies
These practices are simply untenable. Policies that, for example, suggest that ‘at least two out of three lessons observations will be Good or better’ are unacceptable. The meaning of ‘Good’ cannot apply to a single lesson. Surely that is now clear. It simply doesn’t work that way and OfSTED are making this clear.
If your school is determined to retain grading, for reasons of inertia or educational dogma, then the grades have got to be defined locally in some detail – but they cannot be assumed to be OfSTED grades because these don’t exist. Challenge this ferociously if ‘OfSTED Grades’ persist.
Beyond grading, it is possible to develop an intelligent model for evaluating the quality of teaching and learning. It might be possible to extract teacher-specific characteristics that align with the overall Teaching judgement criteria:
BUT, these things cannot be evidenced in a single lesson. Only a much more comprehensive process could evaluate a teacher as contributing to an Outstanding judgement overall.
At KEGS, we are in the process of working on our evaluation systems now, working with each department to develop department-specific criteria based on what we think we should be seeing in lessons. Lesson observations will not be graded; we are simply highlighting areas of strength and areas for development, using the language of feedback to convey the level of concern where concerns emerge. It’s taken us too long to get to this point but the OfSTED spectre has held us back; not any more. We still have Outstanding and Good terminology peppered across our documentation; I think we need to revisit all of that and check the meaning of everything we’re saying. A new language is probably required to eliminate the grading psyche of old.
Our Departmental Review approach is outlined here: http://headguruteacher.com/2013/06/03/evaluating-teaching-and-learning-the-departmental-review/
Our PRP approach is outlined here: http://headguruteacher.com/2013/06/29/towards-a-fair-performance-pay-policy/
A post about our Paradigm Shift is worth reading here: http://headguruteacher.com/2014/01/19/evaluating-and-improving-our-practice-a-paradigm-shift/
The key to all of these things is the use of a wide range of evidence of which lesson observations only form a part:
What about when OfSTED come?
Here, the role of SLT, Middle Leaders and the Headteacher is key. I’d suggest having a very explicit discussion about the Cladingbowl Clarification with the lead inspector at the very beginning. I would also ask that the grades are not shared with staff – only feedback about strengths and areas for development should be given. Within the final Headteacher feedback sessions as the evidence grades are shared, I would be at pains to avoid linking them to individual teachers. It’s simply unfair – unethical – to do so, given that they are not designed for that. (OfSTED should not be telling you anything new about the teachers in a school; their evidence grades should not be used to inform performance management processes in any way – they say so themselves. )
If the judgement and overall grading isn’t going the way you think it should, then do what you can to show them to other evidence and make absolutely sure that the inspection team is not using a crude average of collected grades. For any teacher whose lessons have contributed evidence grades that are below the level expected, then it should be possible to counter that with alternative evidence. Think about what evidence you have for the quality of teaching and the performance of each teacher that you could show if something unexpected turns up and there is an argument to be had. How could it be true that OfSTED think teaching is less effective than you do? What evidence have you got? (Wouldn’t it be ironic if OfSTED is trying to move away from grades and SLTs are still trying to present their own grading as evidence.)
If any inspector is still using language like ‘I saw three RI lessons and four Good lessons’ challenge them and report them. They should not be doing this. Similarly, if they tell you that only 65% of lessons were Good or Better and, therefore, the Teaching grade is only Good…challenge them. It’s not how it is supposed to work.
In preparing for OfSTED, it is clear that the most important thing is to focus on sustained ingrained practice, not what a lesson should be like during an inspection. Sensible, sustained feedback that leads to student progress as evidenced in books and folders is just as important as is adherence to normal routines for maintaining excellent behaviour.
1. A stronger role for self-evaluation.
I would like to see schools producing public self-evaluation reports at the very least every three years if not more often. They should state their strengths and areas for development with reference to the evidence base. OfSTED should use the SEF, of course, but the public nature of a summary report would force everyone to be much more honest and factual.
I think every OfSTED report should include a section for a school’s response, published with the report. This would give every school an opportunity to accept or challenge the report’s findings which parents and others could then take a view of. It would make inspectors work more closely with Heads to agree on judgements because neither side would want to see major discrepancies made public.
2. Different types of inspection according to need and context.
If schools are doing really well, OfSTED should leave them alone, but visit every so often to test the water in a very light touch way. That could apply to half of schools. The more in-depth inspections should be reserved for schools where there is a clear need to probe deeply to explore areas of low attainment, slow progress or where there are other triggers.
In full inspections, the inspection team must include a serving Headteacher from the relevant phase. This may lead to a requirement for all Heads to train as inspectors as part of the job. In my view, this would help to ensure that the system is more robust and more consistent.
I can see all of these things happening. Meanwhile, there is plenty that schools can and should be doing to develop intelligent internal processes that do justice to teachers and teaching, far beyond the crude instrument of grading.
Update: The TES interviewed me for a podcast on this issue. Mike Cladingbowl is featured as is Jonathan Simons from Policy Exchange. I come in at 22 mins.
The TES Podcast – Ofsted special – Resources – TES http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/The-TES-Podcast-Ofsted-special-6409026