When observations go wrong: #SecretOfsted by @TeacherToolkit

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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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This is a #SecretOfsted @TeacherToolkit article: A teacher’s experience of Ofsted, in Gloucestershire.

Over the past 4 weeks, I have published three articles since the ‘famous-five entered the gates of Ofsted Headquarters. Those Ofsted articles, highlighted several questions for teachers, working in a special school; why lesson feedback can be so divisive?; and a senior-leadership’s experience of Ofsted.

Photo Credit: paurian via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: paurian via Compfight cc


The context for this particular post, highlights a very different experience of observations. The timing of this article is pertinent; given the latest publications, but the framework used and applied at the time of writing this; even moreso. This should be kept in mind throughout …


This is a #SecretOfsted article: A teacher’s experience of Ofsted, in Gloucestershire:

October-December 2013 half-term: “We had a very different experience. The school I started at, was in special measures due to poor results. OFSTED observed me with a member of the (SLT) senior leadership team. The member of SLT gave good feedback, which was supported by the inspector.

By contrast, with school observations, I have been receiving judgements ranging from inadequate – good. And then put on capability for this and my poor results. The leadership team did not include the OFSTED inspection when hearing my case. (See footnotes). Needless to say, I argued for an informal period of observation in September 2013 and I am now judged “fit to teach”. I do feel that SLT are coming down on teachers harder than OFSTED would; and yet, many of our teachers who received ‘Good’ judgements, are now getting the infamous (RI) ‘Requires Improvement’; which as you will gather, is not good for moral, and a dangerous tactic in my opinion.

It’s like staring at a blank wall!

Photo Credit: e³°°° via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: e³°°° via Compfight cc

How do you feel when you receive a Requires Improvement’ judgement for your first leadership-observation, after just setting your performance targets for the year?  How do you feel, when one of those targets is: “80% of lesson judgements must be good or better”; with failure to meet those targets, resulting in a negotiation of reduction in wages? I argue, that there is no negotiation, because you can either take a pay-cut, or go on capability procedures!

Ah, but wait … add to the equation; the fact that you have just avoided formal capability, through successfully negotiating, a rather rushed, six-week informal capability procedure. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, that the observation was of my (and most teachers’ in the school) behaviourally, most challenging Year 9 classes. And guess what? During last period on a Friday. You could not criticise me for thinking that this is bit harsh; but really?  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; right? But, this ‘may’ have been the straw that broke the camel’s back …

'The straw that broke the camel's back!'  Photo Credit: •●pfaff via Compfight cc
‘The straw that broke the camel’s back!’
Photo Credit: •●pfaff via Compfight cc

I came into teaching quite late; a gradual transition from being a full-time, working musician, to full-time working music teacher.  In fifteen years, I had always fluctuated between Satisfactory (now, Requires Improvement) and Good; but never Inadequate or Outstanding. And my lessons have always been a bit untidy, in terms getting students to make musical noise, in usually inadequate spaces, with too few resources … I love teaching music and facilitating musical learning is where I have felt most at ease, professionally speaking. But, are you feeling badgered like I do?

In my present school, observations have been conducted by SLT or my line manager (a teacher of PE and dance). I have been struggling to get a ‘Good’ judgement, with many feedback comments, revolving around housekeeping – comments like: “although it was a musical lesson, you had left the GCSE lesson objective from previous lesson, on the whiteboard, whilst having the current Y8 lesson on the IWB”.

Other teachers who have been ‘consistently Good’ and on their way to ‘Outstanding’, are now getting ‘Requires Improvement’ on similar grounds! As I have said earlier, I was observed during our last Ofsted visit, by a member of our leadership team and an inspector. The feedback was a ‘Good’ judgement and the comments were focussed on the fact that; “although the lesson was a bit untidy, the students (majority statemented) were engaged and enjoying the (music) lesson.”

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Photo Credit: futureshape via Compfight cc

Another comment from school observation I received, was to demonstrate progress better, I should get rid of starters that were not specifically related to a point of progress within the topic.  This was after being observed, using the first 8 minutes of a lesson doing rhythm warm-ups; such as Musical Futures suggest, much the same way, PE teachers might ask students to complete a physical warm-up before an activity.

I am acting on this feedback and doing my best to get my judgements to be ‘consistently Good’.  The result has been much tighter control; easy to observe, measurable assessment opportunities; and very unsatisfying, unmusical lessons for my students and me. There are no untidy people out of the main room practising, in fact, not even out of their seats(!), but neatly working in pairs at their keyboards with headphones – with three levels of differentiation. This makes teaching and learning very easy to monitor and you can set up teacher/peer assessment in a matter of seconds.

Classroom management is pretty easy to demonstrate, and the fact that several students may well be playing the ‘demo shotgun’ sounds rather than the task set, is not so easy to spot. Dull; dull; dull and dumbing down indeed!

I feel for the restless boys, who are annoyed at the girls, who appear quite happy with every music lesson taught like this. They must wonder why they can no longer bash the drum kits to smithereens! I have also stopped class singing, as it is an untidy activity; and there always will be a couple of kids who won’t sing along – who will be enough to knock me down into ‘Requires Improvement’ territory! No school observer has commented on the quality of singing when it was there, or the lack of it when it wasn’t; despite OFSTED saying in March 2012:

“In too many music lessons, there was insufficient emphasis placed on actually making music, and too much focus on talking or written exercises. The scarcity of good vocal work in secondary schools, where nearly half of those inspected were judged inadequate for singing, and the underuse of music technology across all levels were found to be significant barriers to pupils’ musical progress”. (Source)

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Photo Credit: sardinista via Compfight cc

I am sure the answer would be ‘Good’ teaching is good teaching in any subject, but intuitively I feel that this is not the case. Perhaps the school is ‘judging tough’ to make sure we all get ‘Good’ when Ofsted next visit? If true, is this a dangerous tactic in terms of staff motivation(?) where we have recently seen more people leaving midway through the year?

I hope to be able to sneak musical music lessons back in through the back door, but I can only do this if I can keep my job, which means doing what I’m told to teach. That is: tidy; measurable music lessons, until I am judged ‘consistently Good’.

Two weeks ago, senior leadership observed me with a Year 10 class and ripped it to shreds; and also ripped me to shreds for an hour (some fair points; some books were not marked for several weeks, some were. I was team-teaching and it was my fault when 3 boys were off task when I left the other teacher to lead the task, whilst I helped a differentiated group next door. The observer gave the lesson an ‘Inadequate’ grading and I’m off to another competency meeting this week.

Any advice?


@TeacherToolkit footnotes: Can I just add, that at no time, should schools use information gathered of individual teachers, from an Ofsted inspection, for appraisal purposes and performance related pay. This has been stated categorically in Ofsted publication.

Comments are free:

If you would like to leave a comment for this school teacher to share; please do so by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post. I will also respond to the comment (that is you), on behalf of the secret-teacher, after sharing your comments.

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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. They will be treated confidentially and respectfully, in order to share our experiences.

8 thoughts on “When observations go wrong: #SecretOfsted by @TeacherToolkit

  1. I understand these comments: I had similar feedback in my previous school.

    But I have really pushed forward, with guidance, with lots I singing in class.

    Warm ups, learning new songs connected to the objective, using musical vocabulary.

    If someone is in watching this kind of learning, you can’t go wrong. Wheel out some old classics, get the children to sing in harmony and connect the learning: you should move up!

  2. been there done that worn the tee shirt and then resigned my head of dept job as I felt I could no longer be expressive in my classes. Now enjoy cover teaching and no one judges me and I don’t have to mark books and assess. Still I am also in my mid fifties so it’s almost like semi retirement. I feel for you really I do.

  3. As a trainee English teacher, all these observations seem ludicrous. Whilst important to judge myself as a teacher in training, I agree. What I can’t stand (already!) is this constant need to make stupid and irrelevant comments that totally demotivate. So what the gcse Los were left on the board. You’d have to have a rather daft class to confuse that with what they were meant to be doing! Picking holes for picking holes sake! Utterly ridiculous!

  4. Graham reply to teacher:
    For me, this seems a total misuse of both observation and the coaching process. I have no idea whether the judgements are valid – but the process of giving these judgements is, in my mind, totally flawed. There is a real danger when managers confuse the accountability framework with a process to support the development of good practice.

    For me, coaching should always be ‘contextualised’ and positive (even if the message is that things need to improve. All research into how to optimise adult performance, shows that a sense of efficacy is central.

    My advice would be for the teacher to ask to be videoed (no, not necessarily with iris connect as in this case I think any simple video could do. For the teacher to review the video on their own and write down what they think are their strengths and weaknesses. Share this with a trusted peer and ask for comments. As a final stage, go to a member of the SLT and ask for a coaching session based on a video clip. If the teacher can show the intent and willingness to be proactive then any decent SLT should respond to this.

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