… The location and identity of this school, is not disclosed in the following article, but, the relevant Ofsted report is to be passed to Mike Cladingbowl for consideration at this week’s Ofsted meeting. This #SecretOfsted post, is written by a teacher who works in a Special School in London.
Our secret-teacher says; this recent Cladingbowl quote makes me wonder how much would be left of our own (school) Ofsted report if the text followed his guidelines:
“‘I’ll make no apology for changing any report where I think that the inspection report itself is not following the guidance we’ve issued strictly enough.”
Even our appointed School Advisor agreed at a meeting with teachers, that in prescribing a method of teaching for the autistic students, the (this school’s Ofsted experience) report broke the most recent guidelines.
A special school experience:
I work at a Special School for learners with moderate learning difficulties and autism. In our most recent Ofsted inspection, my school was judged to ‘Require Improvement’.
When I joined the school it was on ‘notice to improve’, but after two further inspections we came ‘out of category’. Key targets from the last of these inspections were increasing active and collaborative learning, and peer and self-assessment. Although these were not unproblematic in the context of a school with 40% on the autistic spectrum, they drove the school’s improvement plan and, with the support of what was then our School Improvement Partner, we subsequently self-evaluated as a good school.
Last summer, the school also secured NAS accreditation. No reference is made to this fact in the report (although other recent Ofsted reports for similar schools do consider this to be relevant to outlining a school’s context).
However, even before the most recent inspection, last term, teachers already felt doomed. The previous reports were consistent – that the school was on a site that was not fit for purpose – and that the LA should try to find an alternative site. What actually happened was that a site was found that could accommodate a specialist autism provision, meaning that one school was to be split over two sites.
The new school was supposed to open in September 2013, but due to unforeseeable construction problems, this meant the opening was delayed (and an opening date has yet to be announced)! To reduce disruption when the school was to split partway through the academic year, two separate schools were to be run on the existing site in the interim.
Compromises had to be made, which included less than suitable rooms, being pressed into service as (short-term) classrooms in buildings scheduled for demolition in the near future. This was not the ideal showcase for us to show off our good practice but, incomprehensibly, no reference is made to these difficult circumstances in the subsequent report and, indeed, the suitability of the existing site is no longer stated to be an issue.
Teaching and learning:
The most recent report is focused on teaching and learning, particularly for our autistic learners. Too many lessons were found to ‘require improvement’. Disturbingly, however, there was not much evidence that they were matching up their individual lesson observation judgements with progress data. Rather, teachers discovered that the inspectors who had just arrived in the room were ‘experts’ in the learners they saw before them, despite the fact that they were not interested in perusing background or assessment data. They were still somehow able to say, that individuals were not being sufficiently challenged, despite evidence to the contrary and, indeed, in one case, they refused to discuss the lesson afterwards.
The inspectors clearly also had a specific teaching style in mind for those on the autistic spectrum and, contrary to guidance, the report specifies that teachers need to be better trained in it. It is deeply ironic that teachers attempting to develop the collaborative aspect of learning (thinking that this was what Ofsted were looking for, after the previous inspection), were now damned because they were not running lessons at work-stations, with individual programmes and schedules.
The elusive Outstanding:
A key deficiency identified, was that the inspectors saw no outstanding teaching. As a result, teachers are now under instructions to be ‘outstanding’. What this means in terms of changing or refining my own practice remains unclear, even after the new School Progress Advisor was booked to guide us towards this. A senior leader is still telling me that they will know an outstanding lesson when they see it, but cannot define what tips the balance from good to outstanding. Having visited a similar school recently rated ‘outstanding’, I know that an outstanding school site and associated facilities look better than ours, but I am no clearer, about what outstanding teaching and learning looks like in my kind of school.
At the SPA’s training session, most of the time was given over to fielding teacher comments and questions about the recent morale-busting experience of being inspected. At three times in that meeting the, seemingly stunned, SPA said we had grounds for complaint; and also noted that the report broke guidelines by appearing to endorse a specific style of teaching. Having been asked by senior leadership to take questions to the meeting, I wrote the following list of questions.
It was agreed in the meeting, that I would give them in writing to the SPA. To date, there is no sign that the school has received any response.
1) Our students (notwithstanding our efforts as teachers) do not meet the requirements of good in key respects. For example, their progress is held back, by an inability to read or write accurately and fluently; that they do not perform equally well in reading, writing, speaking and listening; that they do not read widely and often, they do not acquire knowledge and understanding quickly and securely; that they do not show a good degree of technical accuracy, or rapidly acquire secure knowledge of letters and sounds.
Can you have good or better teaching without good or better achievement?
2) If the Ofsted criteria for good or outstanding teaching are not intended to be used for individual lessons, but rather for overall whole-school teaching and learning.
What criteria are schools meant to use for the judgements needed for the appraisal process?
3) If we need to train our autistic students, in particular, to be independent; then their work needs to be ‘practice’ rather than new learning. Observers have consistently viewed any consolidation as evidence of progress not being rapid enough.
4) The 2013 Ofsted Annual Report repeats criticism of (mainstream) schools; where, “significant periods of time were spent by teachers on getting pupils to articulate their learning before they had completed enough work.”
So, how do you recommend we train our students (who have communication difficulties) to talk only about their learning, rather than what they are doing?
5) Bearing in mind a) that some students regress, b) that teachers have been criticised for writing too much in books, that is not for our students’ benefit and c) that observers have not been interested in individual stories about students.
How can we make it clearer to observers – merely flicking through our books – that our students are making rapid and sustained progress?
6) If “[i]t is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual,” and particularly bearing in mind the data pressure to get cohorts through accredited courses in KS4 (regardless of individual needs).
How much individualisation is enough?
7) The descriptors for outstanding leadership and management now make it clear, that the curriculum “promotes and sustains a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning.”
What do you think this would look like in our setting, particularly with autistic learners?
8) Recent Ofsted reports for schools graded outstanding, note that “all students read or look at books, magazines or newspapers everyday on their own, with peers or adults” and that “the timetable now gives additional time at the start and end of each day to practise phonics and build literacy skills.”
These clearly contribute to learning over time, but how do inspectors measure learning within any one such lesson?
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