Secret @TeacherToolkit: A leadership experience of Ofsted #SecretOfsted


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@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday... Read more about @TeacherToolkit

This is a Secret @TeacherToolkit article: A leadership experience of Ofsted in England.

Earlier this week, I received an email from a senior teacher in South England. After a few email exchanges, we decided it would be best to share this experience – anonymously – via my blog. You can read the original email below, in 99% of its truest form.

A leadership experience of Ofsted:

“We are very anxious about this whole process at the moment.

Recently our school had invited an Ofsted inspector in as a consultant to de-construct our SEF. (School Evaluation Form) Unfortunately, this had rather a deflating effect and left many experienced SLT members feeling very nervous about giving the ‘wrong’ answers and we became very unsure about where we now stand as a school.

"Recently our school had invited an OFSTED inspector..."  Photo Credit: The_Warfield via Compfight cc
“Recently, we invited an OFSTED inspector to our school…”
Photo Credit: The_Warfield via Compfight cc

I believe that the SEF is a non-compulsory document. However, so much agonising and painful introspection was on display; in what amounted to an exercise in completing Ofsted’s work for them! It was hard to see why there should be such a strong focus and concern over this document …

Advice:

Principally, our consultant stated that there will be several big areas of focus for any Ofsted visit:

  • Pupil Premium,
  • More Able,
  • Best 8,
  • Catch Up and
  • Gifted and Talented (although this would mainly be through lesson provision).

The consultant also urged the school not to fall into the trap of using FFT or APS; but measure everything from the RAISE online data. The most important reason for this is that ‘the inspection team’ will see through the cherry-picking of some data, to try to prove the school is better than it might actually be.

Schools must also be crystal clear on what the current position is on Best 8 and what the future holds. Evidence for the expected improvements in Best 8 is would also be sought.

Pupil Premium appeared to be very high focus. The transparency of how this money is spent – demonstrating this to parents – was highlighted. As much data and analysis of the impact of this money spent is required and freely available.

There was a warning that if Behaviour is graded higher than Teaching and Learning, that this may be a cause for concern. If Behaviour is so good, then why is the teaching not better? Also, if these are the {typical} circumstances, then why aren’t results better?

Another recommendation was that schools should update SEFs regularly with the latest data drop. Probably termly, as this will give Ofsted a better idea of the progress groups are making. Fairly common sense, except that once more it appears as though we are doing all of their work for them!

Curiosity:

I am curious what other teachers feel about the reporting of lesson observations too.

This appears to be an expectation – that the school will be open and transparent. However, it also seems to have the potential to undermine a school and its judgements, should the inspection team not find a direct correlation in their sample of lesson visits.

It was suggested that the inspection team would get the go-ahead to visit a school, then they would have an hour or so to look at the RAISE online; look at the SEF and then start their investigations. Whilst it was made clear that no judgements would be made until clarity is sought from the leadership team and from trawling data and visiting lessons, I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps ‘the team’ do not go into a visit, without already having some strongly held views of the school.

"... they would have an hour or so to look at the RAISE online ..."  Photo Credit: kenteegardin via Compfight cc
“… they would have an hour or so to look at the RAISE online …”
Photo Credit: kenteegardin via Compfight cc

Thoughts:

I would be interested to find out if any schools do not complete the ‘non-compulsory’ SEF document. I am not sure how any school can avoid doing so, without looking like there is a lack of self-evaluation in its leadership team.

What do others feel has worked for their school and impacted on their inspection visit, whether positively or negatively? How much should a school actually ‘tell’ Ofsted, without helping them to pre-judge us too much?

I am new to SLT, but it is evident that this SEF is the bane of everyone’s life; especially if we are distilling self-evaluation and evidence – down to around four pages – and then it becoming a tool to beat the school and leadership team with.

I would like to add: It was clear that the consultant ‘knew {their} stuff’ and was giving well-intentioned advice; but, the overall feeling was that many aspects that we thought were positive about our school, were now not so bright and shiny. It was pretty sobering.

Any advice?

(End).

Comments are free:

If you would like to leave a comment for this school/senior teacher; please do so by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post.

I will also respond to you, on behalf of the secret-teacher, after sharing your comments.

Photo Credit: seq via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: seq via Compfight cc

 Secret @TeacherToolkit?

If you have an Ofsted experience you would like to share; please contact me below in good faith.

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21 thoughts on “Secret @TeacherToolkit: A leadership experience of Ofsted #SecretOfsted

  1. We provided a ‘summary’ SEF. It was about 4 pages of all key information. Happy to share the template for this with you if this would be helpful. It’s true that the team, particularly the lead inspector, will have formulated some thoughts based on RAISE but it is up to school to anticipate and challenge. I would also advise that if you have any areas of weakness highlighted in RAISE that you have a narrative to explain why this happened.

      1. Hi Paul. Blogger says thank you for sharing the SEF.
        “Would you thank Mr Banks on my behalf. Sharing this document with us is a very generous thing to do. I will keep the information confidential.”

  2. We do a summary SEF, which we update termly to reflect changes after data drops and lesson observations. We were inspected in September and made sure that we pre-empted what we may be asked to talk about and has prepared a narrative. We also do a regular Q As (annually) using an OFSTED trained consultant to highlight any gaps in our self evaluation. Happy to share our template if you need.

    1. Hi, I’m relatively new to SLT and part of my role is i/c whole school SEF. Would it be possible for you to also send me the template you use for writing it?

  3. Can you comment further on aspects you thought were secure that maybe weren’t and what evidence you’d used for this and what they’d use for it? i.e why did your judgments differ?
    I know this may be difficult due to confidentiality but general thoughts may help others?

  4. This is a reply I have received from a School Improvement Advisor:

    —————–

    “I read the blog with interest and would say, first of all, that the advice the Consultant gave seems sound. It is a great pity, then, that it seems to have caused so much angst, particularly with regard to the SEF and having re-read the blog I am unsure why this is.

    It is not compulsory to have a SEF. However, all schools have to evaluate their performance and it would seem sensible (if not essential) to record this in some format or other and this would then become a SEF which could be shared with any interested party, whether that is Ofsted, the LA or a School Improvement Partner. I have never inspected a school that has not had a SEF to share with the team.

    Headteachers are invited to share the SEF with the inspection team during the initial phone call made to the school. This can be done ahead of the day of the inspection or on the morning of the first day, whichever the Head chooses. Many do share it in advance, but others decide not to, usually because they wish to update it with the latest information and data before giving it to the inspection team. This is not “doing Ofsted’s job for them”, as the writer of the blog says. On the contrary, it is the school’s opportunity to present a summary of its work and performance and how it judges itself, succinctly to the team. The school has to present up-to-date data to the inspection team if the current picture is to be considered alongside the historical data, so why not put this in the SEF? I do not understand how doing so can be viewed as doing Ofsted’s job for them.

    If the SEF is not shared in advance, the Lead Inspector will usually take it away in the evening to read it carefully over night, as it is essential it is considered in conjunction with all the evidence that is gathered during the inspection process.

    The Lead Inspector will look to establish if the SEF, and the judgements in it, reflects an accurate picture of the school and ascertain how well Senior and Middle Leaders know its strengths and weaknesses. He/she will consider how it links with the School Development Plan and if the key priorities for action in this reflect issues identified in the SEF. It is frequently the case that the issues highlighted in the SEF are similar to the key inspection trails identified by the Lead Inspector – an indication that school leaders have an accurate view of the school’s performance. I always feel reassured when this is the case! I have never regarded the SEF as a ‘stick to beat the school and leadership team with’, nor have I inspected with anyone who thought that either.

    In terms of the RAISEonline data, teams do not only have an hour or so to look at this, as stated in the blog. The school’s RAISE and 6th Form data are made available to the team approximately 3 weeks before the inspection takes place and the Lead Inspector will have analysed this thoroughly before the first day and shared his/her observations with the rest of the team and used these to help write the Joining Instructions. The LI will form hypotheses about the school which will be reflected in the key inspection trails (referred to above) and evidence will be sought in relation to these – but they are hypotheses only, NOT judgements. Current assessment data is considered alongside this and the judgement on achievement is made drawing on as wide an evidence base as possible. Evidence trails can be closed down if there is no reason to pursue them as the inspection unfolds and new trails will also emerge to be taken into consideration.

    In summary the SEF is an important document, but it sits alongside a whole range of other evidence when the effectiveness of leadership and management is considered. The most important thing is that it should reflect the school’s position accurately, acknowledging the things that are done well, together with identifying what needs improving. If it doesn’t, then that would beg the question as to how effective leadership of the school really is.”

    ————————
    End.

  5. NEW comment from the anonymous blogger:
    “As you can hopefully tell, I am doing this to help my school, but I don’t want to cause them any embarrassment. I am not suggesting that the consultant was poor (far from it – they are very much trusted by our school), but only that the process can be somewhat deflating. Every visitor we’ve had tour our school seems to think we have an outstanding school. The SEF feedback made some members question our judgements and feel like we were borderline good. Of course, things can be put right and self reflection is very healthy, but I am questioning why a non compulsory document has so much influence and has so many staff agonising over it.”

  6. From John:
    The only thing that surprised me about the above post is that it isn’t common knowledge.
    In June our Ofsted Team arrived with a very fixed view of what our Raise data showed and we could not shift them- in particular they showed little interest in our 3 years of improved outputs and our current data which would show that we were going to progress again and hit national expected and good in Maths and English. ( Which we did!)
    PP was a very clear focus as was Governance and Middle Leadership. Goverors were expected to be ‘Education professionals’ and to know the school and it’s data in depth – ML’s were expected to be able to justify with impact evidence any statement they made.
    We were given RI and were left feeling that we had been judged not good because we are a school on the coast in challenging circumstances . A view compounded by some research we did around other schools who were inspected at the same time who with weaker data, stronger students and poorer outcomes were given a good.
    My advice?
    Know your PP students inside out and know what you have spent on each one and what the impact has been
    Drill your governors on Raise and the SEF and make sure they are an active presence in school
    Argue your own data from the moment they arrive until they leave and make sure you record/ minute any differences of opinion.
    Make sure all your staff know what a good lesson looks like and are able to teach one
    Nail marking and assessment in books – don’t assume your colleagues know what this should look like
    Judge progress in all subjects against transition matrices
    Have evidence of a high quality, rigorous and impactful QA process
    Then:
    hope you have an HMI on your team- it makes a difference. Two we have worked with subsequent to our inspection felt we should have been given a good based on the data and their visit to the school.
    hope ‘a particular contracter’ don’ t have the contract for your area – evidence in my authority that their approach is adversarial , their view is pre ordained and they aren’t beyond sharp practice eg. Asking who all your best teachers are and then going to visit everyone else – putting pressure on students during their meeting to tell them about all the bullying that must go on etc..

    My current view is that this is a system that cannot guarantee a fair and equitable outcome for schools. There are far too many variations in the approach of different teams and eventually it comes down to interpretation and the four people who walk through your door.

  7. From @Ephemeral321

    > I’m not Ofsted or a teacher. My background was running a Quality Management
    System, and as the lead auditor in the commercial sector. I have no experience
    of Ofsted, but there seems to be similarities and I offer you my experience
    leading a team of auditors (like inspectors). Our quality management system was
    opened up to the inspection of external auditors twice a year to allow ongoing
    certification that our business needed to supply goods. I hope my comments
    below offer some help.
    >
    > 1. Current theme – The ebb and flow means concerns discovered in Ofsted
    inspections in other schools are likely to consequently *shine* the light on
    your own area more brightly. It sounds like your consultant was highlighting
    the current areas. That is a good thing. It means you can be prepared.
    >
    > 2. There is a criteria. Always ensure you can demonstrate everything against
    the criteria. The Inspectors should not be cleared to inspect you against
    anything off criteria – don’t allow yourself to be brow-beaten. They have to
    stick to the criteria – which means you can argue about findings against the
    same criteria. If they identify something that means the criteria needs to be
    changed – it will have to wait for a future inspection.
    >
    > 3. Constant improvement. This can sound relentless but anyone in Quality
    will view the variables as ever changing, consequently there is always
    improvement as a result of the changes: people, policy, procedures, methodology,
    etc. Please don’t be disheartened. Quality bods have a tendency to see what
    could be done better – that doesn’t mean you haven’t done well to get where you
    are – they should recognise your strengths and development. However, neither
    will all that work excuse an area if it has been neglected.
    >
    > 4. Transparency. Personally, I worked with transparency. I identified the
    strengths and how we got there. I identified the weaknesses from our own audits
    and what we were doing against a specific timetable for improvement to be
    realised. Education mixed with politics, hmnn, this is a tricky beast. If I
    was an auditor the ability to identify, implement and manage change/improvements
    would count for a lot. I’m afraid here I cannot guide you. I like Wilshaw, I
    think he understands auditing … I’m not sure all of his Inspectors do. So, my
    advice would be to weigh it up. Remember, you don’t have to declare everything
    but as a management team you need to: identify, plan, implement and improve.
    Have the evidence there if they ask you for it. Waiting to be asked puts the
    onus on the skill of the Inspector. Having the information available when they
    ask for it shows you are in control – and that’s what we ask of management.
    >
    > Hope this helps in some way and that I haven’t wasted your time, and SLT bods
    can advise more on SEF. Oh, and a further thought: if you decide on the transparency approach and complete an optional SEF then remember you can use it as a tool to assist with primacy effect, too.

  8. From Jan:
    Comment: If teachers are planning properly & behaviour is good but results are still low, it’s not rocket science. Simply put, it’s likely the pupils aren’t doing enough work to secure their grades. So look at things like homework
    completion, how much effort they put into their lesson activities, how much independent work they undertake & more crucially how much time they actually spend on learning things for tests and exams!
    >
    > As long as there is no requirement for pupils & parents to take any responsibility for it (and they are the pupils’ exams at the end of the day) results will always be difficult to predict accurately – as data doesn’t take any of the “human” factor into account!

  9. reply @Ephemeral321

    There are proprietary systems available in education but the reality is that the (education) sector is often slow to take up modern day business tools (an observation not a criticism). I will state for the record, my company is a provider of one such system but I won’t name it here for obvious reasons.

    There are many points raised here about what good practice constitutes with regard to content/style/approach of a good SEF for example, linking to the development plan is considered an essential (makes sense) but it’s not always easy to do that using paper or Word/Excel. The purpose of ‘management systems’ is to make the task of managing the business easier, more efficient and ultimately to enable the organisation to be more effective in its core purpose.

    Our (fortunate) experience is that we receive excellent feedback regarding the use of our package in that it fully enables schools to bring cohesion to their improvement and evaluation processes. That’s not to say it’s a panacea for all things inspection; if there is no vision, no strategic leadership capability or capacity and a willingness to make progress through meaningful change, then no system in the world will help.

    In summary, and from experience of working with many schools, I would offer this: You might have great data but if you can’t present it, you might as well not have it.

    And of course, this message might be better coming from people who use the package and have been through inspections with it. I will happily provide a link if requested and permitted.

  10. reply @Ephemeral321

    There are proprietary systems available in education but the reality is that the (education) sector is often slow to take up modern day business tools (an observation not a criticism). I will state for the record, my company is a provider of one such system but I won’t name it here for obvious reasons.

    There are many points raised here about what good practice constitutes with regard to content/style/approach of a good SEF for example, linking to the development plan is considered an essential (makes sense) but it’s not always easy to do that using paper or Word/Excel. The purpose of ‘management systems’ is to make the task of managing the business easier, more efficient and ultimately to enable the organisation to be more effective in its core purpose.

    Our (fortunate) experience is that we receive excellent feedback regarding the use of our package in that it fully enables schools to bring cohesion to their improvement and evaluation processes. That’s not to say it’s a panacea for all things inspection; if there is no vision, no strategic leadership capability or capacity and a willingness to make progress through meaningful change, then no system in the world will help.

    In summary, and from experience of working with many schools, I would offer this: You might have great data but if you can’t present it, you might as well not have it.

    And of course, this message might be better coming from people who use the package and have been through inspections with it. I will happily provide a link if requested and permitted.

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