How to freeze an Ofsted inspector

So it’s been two weeks since my last post – frustrating that I missed time but it’s been a bit chaotic since half term. So today is a catch up. keep-calm-carry-on-it-s-only-ofsted

Two weeks ago we had our Ofsted inspection. As far as the department is concerned, this means business as usual. It’s not about making a one-off performance. So, yes, there were some late night hours seen while catching up on some admin beforehand but the lessons were those we would have carried out anyway.

Nothing doing on the first day, and as luck would have it I was observed with a class I find pretty tricky on the second day. The lesson was the first after break and as I arrived I could see two ‘lurkers’ waiting nearby, so the butterflies duly set in. Would they come in? Would the kids behave? Would problematic ‘Alfie’ fortuitously not be in lesson for once? Would there be evidence of the required progress, engagement & challenge? The answer to all, bar one, was yes. Alfie was of course in 😉

The class was 7b4 and we have been looking into land-use and what makes Portsmouth distinctive. Luckily for us, the school benefits from its central location in the city and the use of the roof on the main building. I won’t go through all the aspects of the lesson, you can look at it below if you wish. The basic aim was to complete an enquiry by getting the class up on the roof. The lead inspector plus accomplice arrived at the start, so I was keen to make the most of the time and get the class on the roof into the enquiry as soon as possible. But the class is ‘bouncy’ and I still needed to get them settled and showing progress as soon as possible. So we started off in the room with them all crowding around the windows making notes and mini sketches in whistle-stop time. The inspectors had a chance during the photo/music quiz bit to go around and talk to the kids and check their books. Then we were up on the roof. I should point out, this was the end of February. And there had been snow/ice recently. It was cold.

The lead inspector tagged along duly, shrugging on her coat. She was Scottish so perhaps should have been more used to the elements! The aim of the roof work was to tour around the different compass points identifying land use. I decided to take a bit of a gamble on the way up, and at each compass point asked a different student to be the teacher and teach the rest of the class, asking them to point out land use & distinctive features, while the rest of the class could take notes and ask questions. They also had to complete the enquiry independently ready to go back down to lesson and make their conclusions. After about 5mins on the roof the inspector had had enough (she’d done the requisite 20mins anyway) but was very chirpy as she went. Clearly she had had enough frosting as, upon her entry to the inner world, once she found that David’s parallel class was also about to go on the roof she politely declined and went off to observe elsewhere. So he managed to escape the fun.

When I went for my feedback I have to say she was excellent. Really great comments and it was nice to see an inspector with a sense of humour. She was very positive and constructive, loved the lesson and although it wasn’t perfect I felt very honoured later when it turned out that she’d brought up the lesson & book marking as positive examples in the whole school debrief of good practice. So, lessons learned from her in terms of their current focus:

1) Take risks – she liked seeing the students ‘teaching’ each other on the roof.

2) Engagement – she told me that the lesson & activities were structured/timed/created to ensure that students ‘were constantly busy and not given any opportunity to go off-track or misbehave’. She noted that the class was one of the most difficult she had seen but that they were well behaved and making progress as a result of short, snappy, focused, enjoyable activities. Even Alfie.

3) Literacy all the way – a BIG focus for Ofsted at present is checking on literacy in all lessons. Although there were opportunities for literacy checks & extended writing in the lesson she stressed you cannot make the links to literacy or its importance too explicit for the students. So lesson is, make those links even more obvious! She suggested speaking more formally in the language of exams even for year 7 students, not so much the language of levels but of future GCSEs and beyond. Raising expectations.

Although it was stressful, it was a very positive experience. The department fared really well and we were pleased to get a mention in the official report for good practice. HOWEVER, Ofsted is just Ofsted. Two days out of the whole school year. One report out of the 1250 informal reports that each child makes each day to their parents, and out of the 250 exam reports revealed in August on GCSE day. It’s a snapshot. Schools and teachers shouldn’t be focusing on whether they can get Ofsted to judge them as ‘Outstanding’ – the focus should always, only, ever be on ensuring that each child gets a genuinely outstanding experience. That every child that leaves in Year 11 does so not with simply a few pieces of paper, but with memories of great school days, with the skills they need to succeed in work and with friends and family, and with a desire to be lifelong learners. That’s my aim, and I hope I never lose sight of that.

“Gorau cam, cam cyntaf.” The best step, the first step.

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