You Couldn’t Make It Up!

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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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Have you ever had to ‘produce a document’ on the day for a school inspection?

OfSTED guidance insists that schools, leaders and their teachers should not produce unnecessary evidence and documentation for school inspections. However, for the first time, I was asked to provide something I did not routinely do for the school – and the information was ‘largely made up’.

OfSTED Myths

The wonderful-myth busting Guidance for OfSTED inspections says on “evidence for inspections” the following:

OfSTED does not expect schools to provide evidence for inspection beyond that set out in the inspection handbook … OfSTED will usually expect to see evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and its link to teachers’ performance management and the teachers’ standards, but this should be the information that the school uses routinely and not additional evidence generated for inspection.

How best to write this? I now ‘choke each time I read this guidance’ above. Surely, ‘routinely’, could mean once a year? Even better: if a school does not routinely produce this information, then it should not be requested.

Day 1

Despite my experience and support for the fact OfSTED have shared these myths, the evidence is clearly not good enough. Inspectors are still asking for documentation not routinely used by the school! Allow me to transcribe a one-to-one conversation I had with a school inspector on the afternoon of day 1. The conversation lasted 30 minutes, but during the last five minutes, well, you couldn’t make it up!

Professional Development

  • Inspector: Could you show me how professional development has grown over the past 2 or 3 years?
  • Me: Yes, of course. Take a look at our Professional Development Menu and watch our short marketing video, which showcases all the professional development work we do. The video has been responsible for attracting new teachers to join our school from hundreds of miles away, despite high costs of living in central London and a ‘Requires Improvement’ judgement over our head; it has also promoted learning for support staff that would otherwise we culled or ignored.
  • Inspector: Okay, thanks. Could you show me any numbers or data that shows patterns of CPD uptake?
  • Me: What? Over the past 3 years? I don’t have any data to hand and I’d need to ‘run a report’, but I could talk you through various groups of staff engagement and what they are learning?
  • Inspector: I’m pushed for time. Could you show me perhaps how many staff have done XYZ this year versus XYZ the other?
  • Me: I don’t have a document to hand, but I could write something up for you and hand it to you in 15 minutes or so?
  • Inspector: That would be great. Thank you.

*n.b. this conversation was 6 months ago, so you will have to forgive me for ad-libbing – without exaggeration.

So, conversation and panic over, wondering why on earth I was making up numbers, I set about typing up this CPD information, printing it off and handing the document to the inspector. There was no further discussion. You couldn’t make this up, but broadly speaking, I did.

That is not to say I had no idea which staff member was engaged with various professional development courses and what they were doing longer term, as well as budgeting for it; the information was not to hand and is not routinely produced. It also worth noting, the school’s professional development starting point was non-existent three years ago.

One could argue, that not tracking CPD data (routinely) in the format it was asked for, is a failing on my part – and I would accept that – but where I believe the failings lie, is on an inspectorate that clearly fails by what is advocates: “OfSTED does not expect schools to provide evidence for inspection beyond that set out in the inspection handbook … this should be the information that the school uses routinely and not additional evidence generated for inspection.”

Yet, still we insist that school leaders waste their time during the inspection itself, making up data, documents and information simply to appease an inspection process. You couldn’t make it up, but I did, and I suspect the document was lost by the inspector in the endless reams of documentation shoved in front of them!

So, without any further ado, here is the *document I was asked to produce to demonstrate professional development uptake and engagement. (January 2017)

*a work of fiction

On Pupils’ Work

There’s more …

Returning to ‘OfSTED inspections: myths’ – this time on “pupils’ work”, the guidance states:

OfSTED does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. OfSTED recognises that the amount of work in books and folders will depend on the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils … OfSTED does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy.

Published in our school policy, we ask that ‘marking should be regular‘. This includes verbal and written feedback, as well as summative and formative assessment where needed. There is no frequency other than proportionate to curriculum time, which to reduce and support teacher workload, is up to individual departments to decideWhatever is useful to the learning and to the curriculum, it should be the curriculum that drives the assessment not an evidence trail, or because an activity should then have an assessment to complete the teaching cycle.

Day 2:

On the morning of day 2, when I eventually did get the opportunity to complete a learning walk (after entering the inspection team’s room to ask for one), the school inspector was fixated on the frequency of marking in books because it said ‘regular’ in our policy. This was even after I spent the first 10 minutes discussing the enormous amount of work completed by the staff and the school, increasing the profile of verbal feedback in all subjects, removing any ‘numerical attachment to marking’ and moving forward from a position of no policy, guidance or any record of any feedback, to more regular assessment across the school. For the remaining 30 minutes, the inspector and I walked around to observe some of the best teaching in the school – including newly qualified teachers.

At the end of the lesson, we spent 5 minutes on a playground bench discussing the findings, recommendations and actions. That was it. Three years of hard work whittled down into 40+ independent observations, a 40-minute paired learning walk and a chat on a dilapidated school bench.

Reporting back to my headteacher, I was ‘pleased that the inspector agreed with my self-evaluation – the warts and all’, yet I was mortified to find out later that evening that the inspector had said in their feedback, that [they] had “found nothing positive”. Therefore, with all the various permutations that trump a teaching and learning outcome, particularly data, evidence suggested the ‘best fit was inadequate’.

The b*stards!

It is my belief, that our brilliant teachers could teach anywhere, yet choose to work with students in one of the most challenging circumstances a teacher could ever work. Nonetheless, their work is tarnished by a tainted view of ‘how we should mark’ – which is a small part of what teachers do. Marking is hit and miss in places, and we were on a trajectory, but with over 40 new teachers since the policy was launched, it was clearly not good enough on the day.

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