There is no such thing as an Outstanding (one-off) lesson! #GrimReaper

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Halt The Grim Reaper!


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Ofsted are frequently asked a number of questions about school inspection. The information presented, offers a very useful read to clarify any ambiguity in schools. The information below was published on 6th February 2014.

Disclaimer In this blog, I share updates for classroom teachers only. If you want to read the full published document, make sure you download the guidance at the bottom of this page.

Is there such thing as an Outstanding (one-off) lesson? If you are looking for the answer to this blog-title, skip straight to question 5.

Judgements over time (old school process).
Judgements over time (old school process).


Any type of Ofsted update, is a great accolade to what is happening in schools. It means the information is evolving to suit the needs of students; teachers and schools. But, as long as Ofsted exist, the framework will constantly need to change to meet the needs of our students. We all know too well, education does not, and cannot sit still.

However, what is clear, is that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the way forward for Ofsted; and although it is heterogeneous to say, “let’s cement the goalposts”, this is far from what we need to see happen. We clearly need a little bit of differentiation ourselves.

As Ofsted’s national director for schools, Mike Cladingbowl said in The future of Ofsted.

“It’s not about shifting the goalposts again. It’s about evolution. It’s about asking some fundamental questions about the direction we should be taking in this new world … 

He goes on to ask: Is it possible to reduce the high stakes nature of a “one-size fits all” inspection regime – and the unintended consequences that sometimes flow from it – while retaining the rigour and commitment to high standards that has been the Ofsted hallmark? This isn’t just a conversation we’re having with ourselves. We are talking to school leaders, classroom teachers, parents, governors and many others who have a stake in us getting this right …”

Photo Credit: nolifebeforecoffee via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: nolifebeforecoffee via Compfight cc

What is being reported, and also what is being shared online via teacher blogs and social media is a credit to the bloggers and tweeters. I have written here about how The social-media epoch is out-dating Ofsted and The Department for Education and as a result, have been invited to Ofsted HQ next week to discuss.

In this update, Ofsted:

“… aim to help dispel some commonly held misconceptions about the school inspection process and clarify Ofsted’s approach to teaching styles, inspection timings, grade descriptors, performance data and more …

Please make sure you read this and pass it on. All the information shared in this article, can be found here.

Teaching and Learning:

Q1: Does Ofsted have a model lesson?

A1: No. Ofsted has NO preferred lesson structure or teaching style. See what I have previously blogged about this, here.

“The promotion of a particular lesson methodology or teaching style claimed to be modelled on Ofsted’s demands is not endorsed by Ofsted. Inspectors evaluate the quality of teaching over time by considering its impact on learning. They are most interested in the standards achieved by pupils and the progress made. The school inspection handbook states: ‘Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of teaching or show preference towards a specific lesson structure.’”

I think we are all clear on that one. Just make sure your leadership team are too!

Q2: Does Ofsted mark lessons down because of a lack of independent learning by pupils?

A2: No. Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Paragraph 64 of the subsidiary guidance makes this clear. Again, I have shared this information and my opinion here.

‘Inspectors must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance. For example, they should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time. Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. Do not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding.’

This sentence simply equates to, any form of teaching that hinders progress over time, IS ineffective.

Q3. Does Ofsted expect to see a lesson plan for every lesson it inspects?

A3. No. Inspectors do not expect teachers to prepare lesson plans for an inspection, but will expect the delivery of lessons to demonstrate evidence of effective planning.

“Inspectors do not expect to see any particular lesson structure. However, they will use the evidence gathered from lesson observations to help judge the overall quality of the school’s teaching and/or curriculum planning.”

Not tried it yet? Give ‘The 5 Minute Lesson Plan’ a try …

Judgements over time...
Judgements over time…

Q4: What percentage of lessons have to be outstanding for teaching overall to be outstanding – is it true that a school have to have at least 66% of teaching judged good for teaching to be judged good?

A4: No. Ofsted doesn’t make judgements about individual teachers or lessons.

“Inspectors observe in lessons, speak to pupils and review pupils’ work in order to make a judgement about the quality of teaching in the school overall and over time. They will also, where there is sufficient evidence, evaluate the quality of the teaching seen as they observe in lessons. There is a common myth that a certain proportion of teaching seen in lessons needs to be be good for teaching to be judged as good overall. This is not the case – inspectors do not need to calculate proportions to arrive at the overall judgement for the quality of teaching.”

Paragraph 26, School inspection handbook

The collation of an overall teaching and learning judgement must not be belittled into a simply tally-chart or percentage. Do not provide these either if you are a senior leader responsible for T&L. You are only advocating the aggregation of tally-charts and percentages. Stop it now! Let the residuals and student outcomes speak for themselves.

Q5: Must a teacher meet all of the criteria in the ‘outstanding’ grade descriptor for teaching to be judged outstanding?

A5: No.

“The grade descriptors refer to the quality of teaching overall, and need not be applied in their entirety to a single lesson. “Paragraph 118 onwards, followed by grade descriptor, School inspection handbook

There you have it. There is NO SUCH THING as an ‘Outstanding’ one-off lesson! You need to demonstrate levels of progress over time; in your planning and teaching (not a lesson plan), to be judged Good or Outstanding over time! I cannot teach ‘one-off’ Outstanding lessons everyday. Can you? But, I’m confident my students are making progress over time. The crux is here; how do you find it and how do you know? …

I’d like to state here. If you are judged consistently Good or Outstanding. Maybe it is time for you, to move away from lesson judgements altogether? Read The future role of lesson observations in England and stop asking for judgements.

Q6: Must a school, or each lesson where an observation of teaching occurs, meet all of the criteria in the ‘outstanding’ grade descriptor for teaching to be evaluated  outstanding?

A6: No.

“The grade descriptors refer to the quality of teaching overall and need not be applied in their entirety to a single lesson. Paragraph 118 onwards, followed by grade descriptor, School inspection handbook.”

I say no more.

Q7: Does Ofsted require governors to undertake lesson observations to make sure they know how good teaching is in the school?

A7: No.

“Ofsted requires governors to know about the quality of teaching in the school. However, there is no requirement for governors to undertake lesson observations. Paragraph 101, Subsidiary guidance”

You can read more information about what Ofsted evaluates when inspecting teaching by reading the school inspection handbook and subsidiary guidance.

Remember, governors hold schools to account. They are not qualified to conduct lesson observations, nor does it form part of their statutory obligations.


  • To download this document from @TeacherToolkit, click Ofsted FAQs.
  • To download this information as a Word file, click here.
  • To download this information as a PDF file, click here.

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10 thoughts on “There is no such thing as an Outstanding (one-off) lesson! #GrimReaper

  1. I’m trying to understand the point of you, the English system about school’s inspection but it’s very difficult. How many time you have school’s inspection? Who do these? What happens to the teachers after inspections? Etc….

    Thank you!
    Lorella Bragantini
    Italian teacher

    1. Hello Lorella. We have a watchdog called Ofsted who regulate the quality of schools; teachers and student progress. They have been around for about 20 years and are constantly evolving. As much as we hate to admit it, some of us tend to hang onto every word they say, and many schools fall short of true-autonomy; because they do things to meet the needs of Ofsted (and not the students).

  2. I completely agree with you. I’d rather, if a complete stranger is going to judge me as a teacher, that he/she judges the quality of my teaching on a number of lessons, speaks to a broad range of my students, looks in their books and analyses my classes’ data before even attempting to reach a grade. I make a similar point in this post:

  3. The graphs you have in this post really helped us in our thinking about the evidence we collect and the feedback we give from our learning observations.

    What data did you use to create these, or were they intended to just be diagrams you’ve created to illustrate your points?

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