I thought I’d better finally follow up Part 1 of my Ofsted tale.
Ofsted were in town, but on their first day I wasn’t seen, or ‘hit’ – the verb of choice in school. Rumours circulated that some staff had been graded as ‘3’s. This troubled me, since 1) Ofsted weren’t meant to be grading lessons and 2) feedback was supposed to be confidential. Right? More on this later. In short, people were beginning to panic.
I, however, wasn’t feeling the fear. On day 1, yes I was terrified. But by the time I woke up on day 2, I was over it. I remembered all the lonely, dark months I had spent worrying and marking and worrying and preparing and worrying … If Ofsted thought I could have done better in my NQT year then so be it. I felt like popping the collar on my metaphorical leather jacket and grinding a metaphorical cigarette under my heel.
Period 1 on day 2 was with my worst class. This class and I have been through the wringer since September. At one point I had 50 % of them on report to me. They are frequently sulky, loud, rude and lazy. In addition, we were doing a dry and boring lesson which involved them listening to me talk about a Lady Macbeth soliloquy before completing an assessment in silence (judge me if you will). But my newly defiant attitude meant I was not changing that lesson, no matter how boring it may be. No siree.
So the lesson began as normal. Now, the aforementioned Lady Macbeth soliloquy includes several words which I knew this class would ‘enjoy’. Hence I decided to ham up lines such as “come to my woman’s breasts.” It was during an exchange about this particular line that I said the immortal words, “imagine if Ofsted walked in now.”
You can see where this is going.
When the inspector walked into the room I froze. I still remember the feeling of my heart plummeting through my body and my blood rushing to my face. So much for not caring. I mutely ushered him to a seat at the back of the room. All I could think was ‘just keep talking and you’ll figure out what to do.’ And so on I went – back to the topic of Lady Macbeth’s breasts, much to the amusement of the class.
But despite a few giggles, they largely performed like a crowd of angels. They behaved impeccably. They answered questions. They asked questions. They did all tasks happily. And when the time came to get on with the assessment, they settled down in silence.
Here’s what the inspector did during my lesson:
– Looked briefly at the pen portrait and seating plan I’d put together (no lesson plan as my school don’t use them)
– Made notes
– Spoke to the two pupils sat closest to him
– Looked through those pupils’ exercise books.
With about 15 minutes left in the lesson, he left. The pupils breathed a sigh of relief and did no further work.
There was some discussion amongst those of us who had been ‘hit’ around whether or not to go for feedback. I think that one of the few beneficial aspects of an Ofsted visit for an NQT, however, is the opportunity to get outside appraisal on your teaching, however unreliable or unjust that appraisal may be. The other NQT at my school and I often wonder whether how we teach is ‘normal’ – if you don’t get much chance to observe others and your observations are done by the same few people in your school then it’s hard to tell what goes on beyond your classroom. So on this basis, I decided I’d like to know.
Feedback was given in a small office in the head’s corridor with only the inspector and I present. He began by reiterating that any feedback was confidential, before asking me how I thought the lesson went. He then talked through the lesson. Here are the things he commented on:
– The pupils were engaged and understood the ‘journey of the lesson’ (his words). The students he spoke to said that they enjoy English.
– Marking was helpful and regular. Homework was clearly being set.
– Behaviour was excellent
– He was able to see good progress in pupils’ understanding in the question and answer part of the lesson.
No negative feedback or suggestions for improvement were given.
- Grades. I was not offered a grade. If I wanted to infer a grade then I probably could – the word ‘good’ was used throughout the conversation – but I don’t know for sure. However, it appears that this practice is not consistent. Other teachers told me that while the inspectors reiterated that they couldn’t give grades, words like ‘outstanding’ peppered the conversation along with nods and winks. And I know that others were either given grades, or again were able to infer them. My thinking is that if grades truly are gone inspectors need to begin widening their vocabulary beyond words such as ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ since these have understandably become such loaded terms for teachers.
- Confidentiality. I don’t know the Ofsted rules well enough to say what confidentiality means to them. What I can say from my experience and talking to others is that one way or another people seem to find out how others’ inspections went. I know one teacher, for instance, whose head of department proclaimed on day 2 of their inspection that Ofsted “hadn’t seen any outstanding teaching” in their department yet. Perhaps people are wilfully sharing their feedback. But it seems to me that it would be difficult, in most schools, to keep your feedback entirely private if you wanted to.
- Teaching Styles. I’m lucky to work in a school which does not pander to the traditional ‘Ofsted style’. My lesson did have a starter of sorts, but it did not have a plenary, mini-plenaries, group or pair work and the children did not get up from their seats at any point. None of this seemed to bother the inspector and he did not comment on the suitability of any of the ‘activities’ beyond the progress he saw taking place because of them. I don’t think my lesson got the hallowed ‘Outstanding’ and if you, or your school, are still bothered by such things then maybe a more ‘bells and whistles’ lesson would be better. I’m just pleased that my lesson was a typical lesson for me, that I didn’t bow to pressure to change anything, that this group of often difficult kids were learning valuable stuff, and that the inspector was happy with that.
If you’re interested, the school was rated Outstanding in every category.