The sorcerer’s apprentice

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The government is set to outline its plans to revolutionize the recruitment crisis in teaching later today. A new apprenticeship scheme, aimed at eleven-year-olds, will allow them to train as teachers in the very schools they left six weeks previously. This exciting new development seeks to bolster the teaching profession that has been in decline ever since additional routes into the education profession were established several years ago.

The details of the scheme will be published on the Department for Education’s Pinterest account and will be available as a series of downloadable 6 second video vines that the trainees can access on their mobile devices as they progress through the course.

The reason behind the new apprentice scheme has been described by its designers as ‘ingenious’. What better way to create new teachers, in a manner that is economically viable, than to entrust the profession to the very people it aims to serve: children. For too long the profession has been populated by adults who, with their degrees and qualified teacher status, have low level relatability to the children in their classes. This new generation of teachers will be able to reach out and touch the hearts and minds of their pupils whilst simultaneously being unable to touch the floor with their feet when sitting on big chairs.

This scheme will also help the DfE overhaul the Key Stage 3 curriculum, again. As more and more eleven–year-olds are selected to remain in primary schools to teach, so will the number of children achieving GCSEs fall. To counteract this, a new set of GCSE subjects are to be introduced which the apprentices will work towards whilst completing their training. These new subjects will include traditionalism, progressivism, photocopier engineering and twitter etiquette. Critics have argued that traditional subjects, such as literacy and mathematics, will suffer as a result of these new GCSEs but, considering the ridiculously high level of the primary curriculum, nobody needs to know anything beyond Year 5 maths, spelling, punctuation and grammar, so, it doesn’t really matter.

This new generation of teachers will be automatically selected based on their standardized score at the end of Year 6 and the quality of their teachers’ personal comments in their end of year report. Children who do not meet the grade will either continue to secondary school or be used as teaching assistants. This scheme is particularly aimed at pupils who may not take seriously the possibility of a degree, putting a fresh spin on an old saying: Those that could do, but can’t be arsed, teach.  A spokesperson from the DfE said that ‘this is exactly the shot in the head the teaching profession needs right now.’

Current teachers, who have repeatedly complained about their workload, will now benefit from having less time in class as they concentrate on writing training materials, producing assessment modules, delivering after-school-club seminars, completing the trainees’ induction programme, organizing the graduation ceremony and building a new staff room. To enable this, all teachers will now work an eight-day week, with the exception of the apprentices who will need to be home by 5:30pm for their tea and keep Saturdays free for chasing Pokémons.

It is expected that behaviour in schools will also improve. Some critics have said that this is absurd as it is impossible to think that an eleven-year-old could effectively sanction another eleven-year-old. The DfE, however, is giving these teachers new social media powers to combat this problem. With each new apprentice, a school Yik-Yak account will be created, allowing the trainee teachers to unleash a series of new and inventive online discipline opportunities, the likes of which qualified teachers would never even have the techno-sense to consider, or find morally and ethically viable.

One thing is for certain and that’s that this new breed of teachers won’t be hampered by an extensive knowledge of pedagogy or understanding of teaching and learning. Instead they will be free to condense the unwieldly national curriculum into bitesize and snapchattable nuggets of information that their classes will be able to download using the newly designed DfE-Edu-App. And all at a reduced cost to the tax-payer and a lowered public opinion of teachers. How could it possibly go wrong? Click here to register your interest.

Image courtesy of @SDupp

True Ofsted conversations #3

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An Ofsted inspection at my school wouldn’t be complete unless it was followed up with another in the popular series of True Ofsted conversations. This time, in a radical shift from the previous two installments, this transcript is not meant to show up the inadequacies of various inspection teams. Instead it aims to show the tricky situation Ofsted are currently in with regards to judging a school’s progress measures in a life without levels. When it came to trying to work out how assessment worked in our school and whether children were maintaining levels of progress compared to previous cohorts, this team were more than diligent. In fact, if there was an Ofsted award for inspecting at greater depth, these guys would surely win gold.

Lead Inspector

So what I really want to explore is whether children are making progress.

Additional Inspector 1

Well, I’ve had a good conversation about assessment with the Head who began the year with a 6 point progress expectation.

Lead Inspector

Ah, yes, the data. How are we doing with the data?

Additional Inspector 2

We have Term 5 data here. Most year groups are currently behind the 6 point target.

Lead Inspector

Are you telling me that the children are not making adequate progress?

Additional Inspector 2

Well, on paper but then –

Additional Inspector 1

– But then the school have recognised that 6 points progress is not an accurate way of measuring progress within an academic year because of the nature of the curriculum.

Lead Inspector

I see. So what are they saying?

Additional Inspector 1

Well, it all depends on what time of year you set your entry and exit points.

Lead Inspector

Because?

Additional Inspector 1

Because for high achieving children, and children working below, their trajectory of progress varies and doesn’t conform to a standardised 6 points a year model.

Additional Inspector 2

How so?

Additional Inspector 2

It is likely that low achieving children will not end the year working at ‘greater depth’. They will most likely end up ‘working at’ this means that their progress will tail off at 4 points. So, in the new year they will need to be moved, statistically speaking, over the ‘greater depth’ levels, on the assessment tracker, and into their current year’s ‘beginning to work at’ expectations. That way the curriculum will be relevant and they won’t get left further behind because the teacher is trying to get them to work on additional expectations from the previous year. Therefore, when they make that statistical leap, their progress will spike.

Lead Inspector

(Turning to the Head) Is that right?

Head

Yes, pretty much. It’s the best way of making sure that their curriculum is relevant and covers the basic skills that need to be consolidated.

Lead Inspector

And it’s not just a way of manipulating the data?

Head

Well, it is manipulating the data but in a way that sharpens the teachers’ mind in delivering appropriate curriculum content.

Lead Inspector

How so? I’d really like to dig deeper on this if I may?

Head

We needed to move away from the concept that a child working at ‘greater depth’ in their year group is a less developed learner than someone ‘just beginning’ to work on the following year’s set of expectations. That’s just not true. In all the work monitoring we did, children working at ‘greater depth’ in the year below, were far more sophisticated, in their knowledge and application, than children ‘just beginning’ to work at the following year’s expectations. Forcing all children to push through every single objective is therefore unnecessary. Sometimes children need to leap-frog some of the extended yearly objectives and start tackling the next set of basics.

Lead Inspector

And is this the advice of the assessment system you’ve bought into?

Additional Inspector 2

No. They’re adapting it to make it work for them.

Lead Inspector

Interesting. So what about the high achieving children. Let’s look, for example at Year 1. They’ve made the least progress, even with your reduced progress disclaimer, what’s going on there.

Additional Inspector 2

Well, these children came in at a higher level from Reception so more of them achieved the expected standard in Year 1 before the end of the year. The school have put a cap on how far beyond a year group’s set of expectations children can go.

Lead Inspector

Because of the curriculum changes?

Additional Inspector 2

Yes. So this Year 1 cohort has been working at greater depth for longer without moving onto Year 2 objectives.

Lead Inspector

So this means that a year group coming in at a higher level is already going to be at a disadvantage in terms of the statistical progress they make.

Additional Inspector 2

Yes, but over the course of 12 months, that should rectify itself.

Head

It’s just the 12 months may not be September to September.

Lead Inspector

So let me be sure that I’ve understood this. The school have been using this assessment system but, over time, have adapted their use of it so that it fits in with how they teach their curriculum.

Additional Inspector 2

Yes.

Lead Inspector

Okay, and how does this translate with the teaching we’ve seen? Are these high achieving children being challenged? Are the less able working on age appropriate objectives?

Additional Inspector 1

The lessons I’ve seen have shown a high degree of challenge. Teachers really stretching the children with their understanding of key concepts. Taking their time too.

Lead Inspector

Yes, I saw that. We often used to talk about the pace of lessons as in how swift could the children be moved onto the next task but these teachers really take their time and allow the children to struggle.

Additional Inspector 1

The work in the Year 1 books also show challenge. You could argue that they began the year completing work that was too easy for them but they quickly moved onto more appropriate and challenging lessons.

Lead Inspector

So, I just want to push back on that to make sure I’m clear. You’re saying that the level of challenge in Year 1 is now appropriate both in the lessons and the books?

Additional Inspector 1

Yes.

Lead Inspector

And do you think that the books show strong progress across the year.

Additional Inspector 1

Without a doubt.

Lead Inspector

Progress in the books is stronger than the progress presented in the data?

Additional Inspector 1

Yes. But the data showing the number of children working at greater depth is accurate and has grown throughout the year.

Additional Inspector 2

It’s just that as they came in higher, there is less of a statistical journey to go on, so on paper it looks as though they have made less progress.

Lead Inspector

Are we satisfied that the Year 1 children have received a challenging education and have made sufficient gains in their learning?

Additional Inspector 1

I would say so, yes.

Lead Inspector

Okay, what about Year 6? Is progress being maintained compared to last year’s results?

Additional Inspector 2

The work in the books is challenging and there is progress. The data suggests that a strong percentage of them are working at the new expected standard.

Lead Inspector

There is a fall compared to last year, but of course we know that standards are now higher and we can’t compare like for like. I suppose what I want to explore here, is whether, the quality of the teaching has been at least maintained if not improved?

Additional Inspector 2

I think from looking at the books you could confidently say that the new curriculum is being taught well. The results last year would suggest that the previous cohort were taught well. Therefore I think, based on the evidence that we have, standards are being maintained.

Additional Inspector 1

The lessons, as well, have been of a high standard. Good challenge. Good teacher knowledge. The children are interested and they work hard on the tasks given to them.

Lead Inspector

So are we saying that the achievement, because of the teaching, is being maintained from previous years?

Additional Inspector 2

I think so yes.

Head

Just one thing, if achievement, because of the teaching, is being maintained from previous years, doesn’t that mean that our standards are higher because the curriculum is more demanding? It would seem to me that you would therefore have to say that the quality of teaching, progress and achievement is actually better than previous years?

Lead Inspector

I think what we have seen is that you have adapted well to the challenges and made sure that standards have been maintained. And that’s great.

Head

Great? I’d call that a bloody miracle.

 Lead Inspector

I guess you’ll find out next week.

Head

Could you come back then and see?

Lead Inspector

Would you like us to come back?

Head

Come to think of it, no.

Ofsted: The Return

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This time it’s personal

It seems like it was only yesterday: holed up inside my flat for two days completing the factual accuracy check that would eventually revoke the inadequate judgement that an Ofsted team had given my school. All twenty pages of it, plus the accompanying post-Ofsted survey – in which I lambasted the professional capacity of the lead inspector – helped my school get out of a serious black hole. No need for me to try and issue a gagging order, I did it the old fashioned way. The report was never published. Instead, a hastily (and at times spitefully) written RI report was delivered and I was advised that this was as far as Ofsted HQ would take it. I would have to sit quietly and wait for another team to visit.

A huge part of leadership is about ‘sucking it up’. This Ofsted experience was incredibly difficult for me to cope with. I was openly critical about the report but even here I had to tread a fine line. Too much poo-pooing looks like sour grapes and denial. Too much acceptance, and those around you begin to believe the hype. I refused to be a passive victim of Ofsted’s failure: nodding my head in acceptance when people agreed with the report’s falsehoods. I was certainly not going to become a martyr to my school’s ‘failings’, as they were presented in Ofsted’s version of my school. To me, that would only signal to others that Ofsted had a point.

My role as leader was to navigate the school through the mess Ofsted had left behind. To do that properly I had to divorce the school from the report and establish our own place in the world. I needed to prove that the school was above Ofsted, in terms of the scale of our ambition, and that the leaders were more tenacious than any inspector, when honing in on what we needed to do better.

So off we went. And what a jolly journey it was. I was free from the shackles of the Ofsted inspection framework. Not once did I say or write the words ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or even ‘outstanding’ in the time after the inspection. I happily deleted emailed updates of what inspectors were looking for. Why not? I knew the needs of the school and I knew we were addressing them. I couldn’t care less about what was popular with Ofsted; they hadn’t cared about my community last time, so why should I care about theirs?

We entered a new and nuanced phase of whole school professional development. I walked into lesson observations with blank pieces of paper – no check-lists – and had professional dialogues with teachers about the quality of their teaching as we both saw it. My senior leaders focussed on monitoring impact rather than systems. We threw away our marking ‘policy’ and replaced it with ‘effective feedback guidance’ that was informed by what our most effective teachers actually did to move children on.

We embraced life without levels. Even though we had a bought in assessment tracker we scrutinised it and adapted it to meet our needs. We were honest with our teachers, and our governors, that looking for a certain number of ‘points progress’ was futile and, as a result, we developed a more sophisticated approach to monitoring pupils’ progress.

Whenever I was asked about our progress since the last Ofsted, I answered the only way I could: with a shrug of my shoulders. I didn’t have a clue. I knew how we had progressed, from previous years, against different benchmarks, and I had to assume that was enough. My school improvement officer would occasionally look pained when I stubbornly refused to put a ‘grading’ on his visit notes and he would gently tell me that I may want to reconsider my revolutionary ‘Balls to Ofsted’ approach come the time of the inspection. I told him I wouldn’t. I thought to myself…would I?

In my darkest hours I wondered what I would do on judgement day. Would I cave in and recite the mantra so the lead inspector would be pleased with me? Would I sacrifice a positive report for the sake of my pride? Could I risk another RI? What would be more difficult for me to live with…losing my job or losing my self-respect? I hated Ofsted. Would I really sleep with the enemy to get a good result? But then again, it’s not about me, it’s about the school. Surely I wouldn’t risk the stability of the school just so I could stand up and say that I refused to bend? I’m a pretty stubborn person but was I prepared to be a total idiot?

The phone-call came.

The lead inspector seemed like a decent chap. I was honest about how anxious people were because of what had happened last time. He said he understood and that he was aware of the context. He re-iterated the motto that this inspection was to be done ‘with us not to us’. In a few minutes he, and his team, had put us at ease and the inspection began.

It was pretty soon that he raised the point that he wasn’t sure where I was pitching the school in terms of a judgement. I took a sip of water, followed by a deep breath, and made my decision.

‘Well, the thing is,’ I said, ‘and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t use the Ofsted framework so you won’t actually find any judgements on my SEF or anywhere.’

He smiled and asked me to continue.

‘You see, I don’t find Ofsted that helpful in determining what the school needs or in assessing how effective we are. I draw on a range of information to judge the effectiveness of the school and from that I am able to say whether we are meeting, exceeding or falling below the expectations we have set for ourselves. I hope that’s OK.’

He continued smiling and simply said, ‘The thing is, if you don’t actually say ‘good’, or better, I can’t write it down, and, if I can’t write it down, it’s not in my evidence base.’

The canny fox used the phrase ‘good, or better’ to try and break me. What was I going to do?

‘Well,’ I said, ‘if you hear me say the phrase ‘at least expected’ then you can interpret that as ‘good’ and if you hear me say ‘exceptional’ then I suppose that would mean ‘outstanding’ in your world.’

He nodded with a smile that suggested he would indulge me, at least for the moment. As the first day continued I think it became clear to him that I was not being recklessly foolish with my self-evaluation. Through his careful leadership of the inspection there developed a shared understanding between Ofsted and the school. And, as the two days went on, he was able to quality assure that our benchmarking was accurate and consistent with his. The war was over and what some people had referred to as my ‘dangerous game’ of going against the Ofsted regime, resulted in a report that celebrated the robust and innovative approach to school improvement that has been the bedrock of our continuing success.

This Ofsted was easier than the last. The team was professional. They came in to the school trusting us and they listened. I was allowed to think beyond Ofsted and they saw the impact this had had on the school. They were not offended by the fact that I would not hinge my whole school on the Ofsted framework. They respected my professional judgement and as a result I respected theirs.

Should you ever read the report you will see that it is a summary of an individual school and not an ‘off the peg’ inspection report full of stock phrases and tired evaluations. They took the time to explore what makes the school unique. I care more about that than the judgement number at the top of the report.

In terms of where the school goes now…well, that’s as up to us as it was before. Some things, thank goodness, never change.