Head teachers are beginning to report back on their experiences of being inspected under the values and criteria of the new Ofsted framework now that it has had three months to settle down from its start date of September 2012.
Theoretically, under the new framework it is possible to have attainment below national average and still be judged to be outstanding because of the progress being made. It is supposedly a broader basis for judgment. But it all depends on the vagaries of the inspectors doing the job.
Since the very hostile reaction at ASCL and NAHT conferences about inspectors simply ignoring the progress the school and its students have made from very non-average starting positions, in favour of measuring the school simply against National Averages (particularly in Maths and English) there has been a softening of the line. Wilshaw has promised that progress will be respected in OFSTED judgments and ‘ is the most important criterion’. The feedback is that this is now more the case than hitherto. Wilshaw has also promised to ‘do something’ about poor inspectors who ignore this credo.
However, there is unanimous agreement that the bar has undoubtedly been raised, particularly over the quality of teaching and learning, with heads saying that experienced ‘good’ teachers are now being marked down because there was insufficient evidence of learning taking place. Lesson observations are much longer than expected –25-30 minutes – and a lot of time is spent with students to assess how their learning is progressing and their views on teaching quality.
The shift towards demanding evidence of learning having taken place is very marked: “There was, reported one head, a clear focus on learning, progress attainment and the quality of work in books, and not just in the observed lesson but over time, in the tracking and monitoring of data and in quality assurance documentation. The comment to the headteacher was: “to achieve outstanding progress for a lesson observation under this framework, there must be outstanding progress and attainment over time, as well as in the lesson observed.”
For the first time the Teaching Standards, recently revised and re-issued, are being linked into Ofsted’s teaching performance reviews and there is an emerging emphasis on Inspections looking at a school’s commitment to improving teacher performance against these Teaching Standards. A recent Ofsted report on the elements of leadership that made Heads successful (in Ofsted inspections) pointed out that many schools tackled poor teaching but only the really good schools had a system for improving teaching beyond satisfactory and good.
Within the new Teaching Standards there is also a strong emphasis on the need to inculcate British values and British/Christian culture. This chimes in with one of the requirements of the New Framework to ensure that there is a strong moral social and cultural orientation throughout curriculum
Despite the softening of the line, the playing field still seems more than a little tilted against schools in socially deprived areas, heads, many heads have cllaimed.. Previously outstanding judgments are being marked down to good or even just satisfactory, even if progress had been maintained or improved, because students are behind national average attainment. There is a need to work much harder, and provide much greater evidence of progress to avoid being condemned by these national averages. Schools need very robust data to demonstrate that all individual students and groups (boys, girls, FSM etc) in all current years are progressing at least in line with national averages – and this need to be triangulated with quality of teaching, progress with individual classes over time, with progress seen in lessons, progress seen in written work (with specific student response to formative marking), student learning behaviour and student survey and interview data (e.g. that moths was enjoyable and well taught and that progress was being made).
Trends within Ofsted Inspections summarized
- SEF reports were not often digested properly or used extensively by inspectors.
- The national attainment averages were a key measure and schools with below averages in key subjects risk being placed in a category of grade 3, with context being a wild card, depending on the inspectors.
- Any defense relating to context needed very robust data of progress being made, which tied into data on monitoring information, assessment for learning, progress in workbooks, group progress data.
- Lesson observations were frequent and longer with learning taking a greater emphasis on learning than teaching. Lots of interviews were conducted with children about enjoyment and engagement.
- Good quality ‘live’ data with a coherent narrative is necessary at school, faculty and classroom level. In lesson observations student attendance, behaviour, prior attainment and progress data should be to hand with the lesson plan, as inspectors wanted to see this ‘in action’ during the observed lesson.
- Teachers are marked down a grade if learning evidence is not visible and strong and schools are judged on whether they are systematically improving teachers and using the Teaching Standards as a guide to that improvement.
- A much greater focus on SEN and safeguarding, which involved data on progress, attendance, detentions, exclusions, participation in after school clubs, learning walks, meeting SEN students, meeting TAs, looking at safeguarding/CP policies, meeting with the Safeguarding Governor, pastoral team CPO.
- Zero tolerance or room for negotiation of poor student behaviour.
- Strong emphasis of how well the curriculum is adapted for the able and talented, with a corresponding
‘coolness’ toward vocational qualifications.
- Gender variation is often a key issue.
- Performance outcome variation between teachers and middle leaders was a key focus in some inspections.