True Ofsted Conversation #1

 

images 2Hey there. Whilst away from work due to a serious case of the sniffles I found myself reminiscing about one of my many joyful moments from my recent ofsted inspection. Here I have written the transcript of a conversation I had with the lead inspector after a twenty minute lesson observation. See if you can guess the part where it began to dawn on me that the inspector was slightly insane and was not going to budge from her relatively fixed agenda.

Ofsted 

Did you see what happened in that lesson?

Head

I was there yes, I saw what happened.

Ofsted 

What happened?

Head

Were you there? I think you were there, I definitely saw you there.

Ofsted

But what did you see?

Head

I saw a lesson on measuring.

Ofsted

And what were the children doing.

Head

They were measuring the perimeter of irregular shapes and using their knowledge of shape properties to work out lengths of certain sides that weren’t known. Some of them were then converting into different units of measurement.

Ofsted

And could the children do it?

Head

They were having a jolly good go and many of them were being successful.

Ofsted

All the children I saw could do it.

Head

Great, teacher did their job then. Now next we’re going to see –

Ofsted

-they could all do it. I saw them do two in a row.

Head

Yeeesssss.

Ofsted

They could already do it.

Teacher

Well no, the teacher showed them how at the start of the lesson.

Ofsted

I didn’t see that

Head

No, you were finding one of your forms as the lesson started but her plan says she taught it and the work before was not the same and I asked some of the children if they had done it before and they hadn’t.

Ofsted

I heard you ask those questions. Why did you ask those questions, those questions won’t tell you anything.

Head

Sorry what?

Ofsted

I didn’t see anything that showed me they couldn’t do it before the lesson. Where was the challenge?

Head

Well, at the start of the lesson they probably couldn’t do it, that’s why the teacher taught them how to do it at the start of the lesson…that you didn’t see.

Ofsted

How do you know they couldn’t do it?

Head

They hadn’t done it before in their books and I asked them if they could have done it at the start; I asked if they needed to have listened to the teacher before having a go themselves or could they have just got on with it.

Ofsted

I heard you ask that. Why did you ask that question?

Head

Well, it helps me judge the level of challenge or if the teacher is wasting their time.

Ofsted

OK and what did the child tell you.

Head

She said that she may have been able to do the first two but after that she would have got stuck unless the teacher had showed them how. Then another child on their table agreed that number three was really hard.

Ofsted

Of course they said that to you because you’re the Head.

Head

Sorry come again?

Ofsted

They tell you want they think you want to hear. That’s why I don’t ask those questions.

Head

Hmmmmm. I’m not sure I agree with you on-

Ofsted

-I saw nothing but work done correctly during that lesson.

Head

Right…

Ofsted

No challenge, there was no challenge in that lesson.

Head

But, they couldn’t do it at the start and then the teacher taught them so they could and therefore they were able to do the work.

Ofsted

Why didn’t the teacher move them on.

Head

Because they had only been able to do it for twenty minutes I’m guessing the teacher thought a bit more consolidation could be a good idea. Plus on her plan she is extending them in the plenary and tomorrow they’re solving a problem.

Ofsted

Well I didn’t see that. I didn’t see any challenge so we have to say that lesson required improvement.

Head

Get out of my school. Get out of my school now or I will beat you to death with my pupil premium tracker that I was up all night amending and you haven’t even LOOOKED AT IT!

(I didn’t actually say that last bit, but the rest of it is true. If you’re waiting for Ofsted…enjoy!)

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The Golden Age – part 2

When I began teaching, Headship was like the end of a rainbow..out of reach. Partly because I had only begun teaching,  any thoughts towards becoming a Head would have been very odd considering I wasnt quite sure what was higher: a 2C or a 2A? (I actually had to ring my final school, placement mentor to find out). No, if at that stage in my career I had designs on Headship it would have been very worrying and I probably should have left the world of education there and then .  

Another reason however as to why Headship appeared to be an almost mythological state was because of the Head Teachers that were around. In my mind the Head Teachers back then were calossal. Mighty beasts that not only led their school but were the school.  I don’t want to use the word “Maverick”but these were big personalities who seemed untouchable. It was these men and women whose schools were like kingdoms.  When you heard about what this or that Head was doing in his or her school it was like listening to myths from another land. They were at once, to me, all knowing about education but only in their particular domain. I always felt that it would be impossible to become one of them…unless I killed a lion or wrestled a bear or bit the head off a snake in some weird local authority ritual.  

I later worked with one of these leaders at close hand and I was so relieved that they weren’t a disappointment. It was a tough school in a socio-economically depressed part of the city and floor standards were pretty much your wildest dreams.  (Don’t confuse that with staff low expectations however, as a pgce student once made the mistake of actually saying during a staff meeting.) This Head was, to my mind, the only possible person who could lead that school.  

Don’t get me wrong, there were some areas of weakness:  

1. Being able to actually teach (if he was taking your class you would come back at break to find that he had barely taken the register so preoccupied with trying to make the class laugh)
2. Staff communication at times was not brilliant; you found out, for example,  what year group you were teaching next year via letter in your pigeon hole after lunch on the last day… he would have left for the holidays at noon.
3. Zero respect for financial responsibility…each year came the depressing and soul destroying moment of ‘managing change’ which left many staff feeling devalued.
4. Writing a  SEF that was a complete (although at times amusing) work of fiction.  

But there were many, many, many things that cause those weaknesses to evaporate from my mind when I think about his overall contribution to that school community.  He loomed so large on the psyche of the community and committed so much of his life to bringing the community together and unifying them that he remains a significant influence on my own headship.  

I say that even though I believe his breed of Head Teacher is now extinct. For better or for worse schools are no longer led by Kings or Queens trying to protect their castle from the dragons that try to burn them down. (Wow, reading this back makes me think I should hold back on Game of thrones). These Heads have died out as Headship became more… professional?  

I don’t for one minute say that to try and take any level of professionalism away from the Heads of yesteryear… but the job itself has changed. For example:
I can’t employ, without interview, parents from the playground because they seem nice. I can’t have staff favourites (publicly) and offer them internal promotions. I can’t create an SDP priority based upon a personal indulgence. l can’t ignore what my local schools are doing or ignore their achievements over mine.  

Headship has become more transparently accountable and operating as a lone saviour is impossible. When people reminise about the “freedoms” of teaching back then (“I used to decide what my afternoon lessons would be whilst shaving”) or Headship (“Bugger the SIP, I Know what we’re doing”) l occasionally feel, not Sad, but a nostalgic longing for what I may have missed… a golden age? A time of freedoms and of a “my way or the highway” and assurity that you were right without question.

I mean will I inspire a generation of future Heads? Will they write a blog about me saying:  

1. By God he could write a SEF that cut to the chase.
2. He Knew Raise like the back of his hand.
3. I’ll say this for him, he always interviewed if there was a vacancy.
4. The man could budget reasonably well.. no one lost their job but we never managed to equip a fully working ICT suite.  

I’m certain they won’t. Even so, I hope I can be the Head for the community that I saw in that inner city school years ago. The cut corners, I can do without and the independence.  But the total commitment to a school is what drives me, and the changes that have come with the evolution of school improvement are, by me, welcomed. I embrace the partnerships we are creating with local schools in the real world and professional colleagues in the virtual world of twitter. I don’t want to be alone in this very public dashboard of educational judgements. We may not be living in a golden age of education and school leadership may have become more corporate and professionally minded but I wouldn’t necessarily change that.  

Where there are constraints, people will find freedoms through creativity.
When one school “fails” it will succeed through systems and partnerships.
Professionalism and rigid accountability are borne from a true desire to raise standards for all pupils.

As a school Leader I truly feel that we are tantalisingly close to forging education’s new golden age.

Ofsted – it may have been tough but it made me realise how much I care

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Since becoming Head Teacher of a new school in September I felt I had a proportionately dispassionate view of the school. I had invested all of my energies so far in establishing what sort of school it was and working out the most effective way of making it my school. This meant re-establishing a school vision, ethos, set of expectations for standards and galvanizing the whole school community together. I had been pleased with how rapidly things got moving and as we entered 2013, after two terms, I felt that although it was becoming my school, my judgement of the school was still firmly rooted in the past. I believed that this was a luxury and I used it almost as a suit of armour: I could robustly challenge everything but with a safety net of it not being my fault. This also worked well with staff as I wasn’t necessarily judging or ‘blaming’ them but the systems under which they had been operating. This also allowed them the freedom to commit whole heartedly to my vision (or move on).

The pace of change since September had been rapid with numerous systems and structures being developed, invented, and implemented: all designed to improve standards across the school…at some point. I made the judgement call that the systems had to be in place first, in line with everyone’s commitment to them and then we could focus on using those systems to improve and monitor their effectiveness. So, I felt that I was in the ideal place for an early inspection and I hoped the school would get a challenging inspection judgement to help justify my changes. I was certain that I would be immune to any feelings of responsibility of past standards and that I would only feel fortified and reassured, ready to push on some more.

And then I got the phone call.

I was fine, I kept my cool and as I calmly told staff and reassured them that we knew what we had to do, I was certain that I could convince Ofsted that I was the right person, in the right school, doing the right job. As the first day continued, two rather unpleasant feelings began to run through me in successive waves: I was not doing the right job and I was letting everybody down.

I have never felt so inadequate in my life especially when trying to justify whole school trends over time after spending 22 weeks in the job. The ‘narrative’ of the school that I had been telling myself, my staff, my governors, my parents was falling on deaf ears. Suddenly the firm ground I had been standing on was crumbling from underneath me as the inspection began spiralling out of my control. I was terrified.

By late afternoon, I had concluded that my judgement on how to play the inspection had completely failed. I had planned to be incredibly positive. Positive about the inspection, positive about the judgement I knew we would get, positive about the size of the task in hand, positive about the abilities of everyone to get the job done. This evidently is not what the Ofsted team wanted to hear. Instead, they wanted to hear me say how awful I thought everything was and how when I had first arrived I had thought the school was a bloody disgrace to education. If they had heard that come from my lips, only then would they believe that the governors had backed a winner when they appointed me.

If at this point I was feeling inadequate as a leader, it was after the team had left that I began to feel even worse. Why? Because everyone was being so, well, nice. Teachers, support staff, governors and many parents began rallying around me saying incredibly supportive things to me. (Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t curled up on the floor weeping and declaring that the school might as well be taken out to the knacker’s yard and shot) but as I went around trying to support them, it was clear that they wanted to support me. It was then that I realised I wasn’t as detached to this school as I had tried to make myself believe. I also realised that my initial plan for improving the school had worked: everyone was united and behind me but sadly this just made me feel worse. On the outside I was trying very hard to put on a calm and brave face but inside all I was thinking was: ‘You’ve all put your faith in me…and all I’ve done is let you down.’ It was almost too much and that was the real surprise: I love my school!

Luckily, day two went better. The team seemed more willing to listen and they finally began to say the same things that I had been saying all throughout day one. By the end of the inspection they concluded that I did in fact know the issues of the school and I could be trusted to implement improvements. Was it frustrating to have them write areas to develop that were identical to the ones I had identified on my school development plan and school self-evaluation plan? Maybe.  Did they have to conduct day one with their ears blocked and eyes closed and unable to listen to my story? Maybe not. But, due to their uncompromising attitudes throughout that day they allowed me to see, for the first time, that I am leading a school community who trust me and want me to do my job to improve their school. They also made me realise that I am possibly, more attached to the school than anyone else and for that I suppose I should be grateful. So through slightly gritted teeth: ‘Thank you Ofsted.’