Without having a goal is it impossible to score?

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I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while since there has been extensive discussion online and widespread celebration about a  new dawn with Ofsted. Much of this has been prompted by an open dialogue between some key groups of Heads and school leaders, as represented by HeadsRoundtable, with Ofsted. I believe that it is fantastic that there is a debate and dialogue to be had and the profession is engaged in this. If we are serious about “systems leadership” this is what we need to be willing to invest time in. A few key thoughts have struck me…

1. We need to move away from pantomime politics and leadership

It is easy to fall into a trap where we focus on pantomime politics and over-simplify the issues by being distracted by key public figures and individuals. I have been in too many meetings where people are drawn into wasting energy on talking about personalities and petty politics. We have an obligation to be “deflective practitioners” and protect the schools we lead from external pressures and free people up to simply do what’s best for our students.

2. We need to be be committed to getting the basics right

Sometimes we can see that schools are drawn into making everything complex and complicated. This can be a distraction and actually a way to avoid addressing the key issues. We had a Catholic Section 48 inspection last week which described the presentation on data as the simplest and most succinct they had experienced. I suggested that sometimes when we make things too complicated it is solely a smoke screen to hide the reality of what’s going on. In essence get the basics right and get everyone to do them consistently. It does not help us to make things over-complicated or bureaucratic.

3. Observation matters and can make a real difference

This is the crunch of my reflection… I think observation matters and is an essential part of our professional development. I even believe that the Ofsted definitions are useful to inform this conversation. You will find a really engaging discussion on this by Tom Sherrington, a well respected Headteacher and prominent blogger, on the changing goalposts of Ofsted.

I believe that the Ofsted definitions and gradings for learning and teaching actually work. They give us a benchmark and common language which can help us progress with raising achievement and the standard of learning and teaching… so why do I believe this?

4. Some people may have “taken advantage” of observation

Observation at times may have received a bad press… I heard one school speak proudly of how they observed all staff 12-15 times each year and published a league table with the average results in the staff room (Miss. Jones was Champions League with a 1.2 whereas Mr. Smith risked relegation with a 3.9!) This solely uses observation to expose, judge and measure people in a  summative way. It fails to see this as an opportunity for genuine dialogue and professional development.

In the same school I mentioned they also got every member of staff to come in after the mocks to ask “What are you going to do about the results?” Nothing like getting the balance between support and challenge right! I hope we ask what we are going to do together to achieve every students’ potential each year. People need to feel fully supported if you want to offer the right challenge.

It is also clear that Ofsted themselves have abused the system. We have all heard of inspectors swooping in and proclaiming a grade for a lesson without entering into any meaningful dialogue. I think this is what Ofsted has recognised is worth moving away from. There is a recognition that outstanding schools need to show evidence of progress over time but at the heart of this will be the “rich diet” the students receive every day. This is what matters most and will make the underlying difference to their happiness, confidence, success and progress.

5. We want to have a goal to aim for…

I have very limited footballing skills but know the satisfaction of achievement… you only need to see how many people structure their summer holidays around results day to see this. It is rewarding to feel progress, achievement and success collectively or individually.

More than ever in interviews this year people talk about their aspiration to become “outstanding” teachers and this is something I really respect. The “craft of the classroom” matters and gives people the integrity and credibility to take on leadership responsibilities in the future if this is a direction they are keen to go in.

We have a GO programme at our school which is committed to supporting and developing people from “good to outstanding”. It is popular, life-giving and successful and each year we have more people applying to be part of it than we can support at any one time. It is committed to a cycle of coaching, collaborative planning, observation and departmental improvement. It is not about one person developing but ensuring that all that we do can have a positive impact on others. It is a great joy when people achieve an “outstanding” lesson and many people I have worked with value and respect this accolade and we celebrate their success and share what has worked and why.

We are at risk of rejoicing in the fact that the idea of grading individual lessons has gone but replacing it with a system which is more complicated or arduous. It also may take away from the common language we have developed between schools about what makes outstanding learning, if we all devise our “in-house” alternatives then we may lose out on this.

So what next? I would hope that the success of the debate and the dialogue is to push Ofsted teams away from making simplistic judgements on individual lessons and suggesting that x % of good or outstanding lessons defines the overall outcome of an inspection. However, I would be confident that anyone spending time in our school would see a high level of good and outstanding lessons and this is what has led to the consistently strong results.

We have an opportunity to engage with Ofsted in an honest and professional dialogue about the full picture of what our schools are all about. If we can do this maybe we can still keep all that is best about being outstanding in the classroom after all this is a goal worth aiming for.

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5 thoughts on “Without having a goal is it impossible to score?

  1. I really enjoyed your post, thank you. The dialogue is important but I feel the autonomy schools could have to individualise there own structures of evidencing T&L could also be beneficial to their own communities. Do we need a national grading structure? As long as aspirations are high and add value is that part relevant if you can show progress??
    I really like to more about your GO structure and it’s finer details. Would you be happy to share it?

    • Thanks for your comment on the post Anna. I am the first to advocate autonomy, freedom and choice. We need to have a broad view of what makes the best environment and culture for learning and teaching in each school. The grading structure gives us a “shared language” that when we talk about the quality of teaching we are discussing the same things. In a small area of my degree I studied linguistics and Wittgenstein talked about how difficult it is to truly use even common words such as colours or love in a way that has the same meaning to all of us – I would imagine this would be the case for learning and teaching too.

      The GO programme is fantastic and I will write up and share how it all works in the near future.

  2. Some very interesting thoughts on this.
    It is worth considering what we want to gain from the observation. Needless to say as soon as teachers know they are going to be graded and judged on a static standard they will often spend hours creating a particular lesson which will attain the good or outstanding grade and be notched up somewhere. Therefore the observer can see what the teacher is able to achieve with time, focus and the wind behind them but not the daily experience of the students. This also can be to the detriment of other classes because the teacher has put all their attention into the observed lesson. Would that it weren’t so, but the grade supersedes any advice or support which the observer could give, in much the same way that students ignore our helpful feedback and focus entirely on how the work is graded. This has been clear in recent observations taking place in my department.
    My experience of the GO programme was entirely different simply because there was no grading involved in the process. Peer support and coaching enabled me to perceive things which I had missed in my lessons without any sense of threat or judgement. We also eschewed the final graded observation implied in the ‘Good to Outstanding’ name of the programme because I could point to progress being made by students in those lessons over time and our reflection on different techniques I had experimented with demonstrated clear progress and direction in aspects of my teaching.

    • Maybe this is the key Gabrielle – being willing to “go on the journey” to experiment in our teaching to achieve the sense of progress. The all important part of this process is to enter into the conversation about learning. Sometimes this can be lost in translation if we get too hung up on the grade itself. We always need to keep ourselves honest by engaging each other in a discussion on what works and why. Rather than creating a masterpiece / show lesson what really matters is the “staple diet” of what happens each and every day. By defining and being clear about effective learning I think it helps build this up if we all commit to doing it in the right way.

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