Tag Archives: Ofsted

Pick One Battle

A colleague and good friend shared this:

It’s beautiful in its simplicity – but deceptively simple. That’s because the injunction to ‘let go’ presumes knowledge of the thing that was picked up, and how sticky, or heavy it’s since become. Of what, specifically, am I letting go? And how do I, specifically, put it down (and then not pick it up again when no-one’s looking)?

We humans are skilled at mentally revisiting issues about which we care, yet over which we have no direct control. Think about the future or the past or the news. Just three small examples for you there.

At least my friend’s poster provides a valuable sorting opportunity. But what kind of battles, here in early December 2021, can we choose?

20 months into a pandemic, as a new variant pops up its vastly mutated head, schools are being invited to keep calm and to carry on, regardless of exhaustion, uncertainty and day-to-day volatility. Energy is low, patience is thin, tempers are on hair triggers. Is there a battle worth picking? I’d argue, yes, there is always a battle worth picking, but make it the best one. Here are four:

Battle OneOthers

The battle that trumps all battles is the safeguarding and wellbeing of our children. I’ve seen some incredible fights over the years as teachers, leaders and other professionals battle to save children from harm and give them a future they would otherwise be denied.

Battle TwoAuthority

And then there’s Ofsted. A headteacher in one of my coaching groups (and the inspiration for this article) wisely recommends this approach: don’t try to control it all during an inspection (or in the transparent pantomime debrief). Pick one theme and fight for it relentlessly. Maybe you’ll win, maybe you’ll loose – you’re talking to the book regardless, but at least you’ll have demonstrated focus, passion, and commitment – rather than presenting as ‘against’ everything (even if you are).

Battle ThreePosition

Leaders often battle on behalf of others or for a value or principle. It’s what makes them leaders. Leaders step forward when others don’t; they speak out when others can’t; they act when others won’t. Leaders take a position and they defend it. Others see the stand they’ve taken and may join or attack. There’s a difference between being outspoken and speaking out. Positions of value are worth defending, worth battling for.

Battle Four – Self

Or maybe for you, the battle is about showing up each day and giving what you can. Teachers affect eternity – even when they’re exhausted. They rarely see the value they’ve added to the world but that value is added non the less. Maybe your one battle is to hang on, to face the world again and to make someone’s future just a touch brighter.

Many more battles are available. Choose one that’s within your control to fight, and one that is worth winning.

Open Letter to Teachers, Leaders and the DfE

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Holding too tight, it slips through fingers; bearing too much, it breaks.

You know me, I’m tough, I’m resilient. There’s nothing rocks me. Ever. But see this tear here on my cheek. That’s new. Headteacher

15 pages of vacancies on the website. There’s usually 1 this time of year. Headteacher

I am a coach, a trainer, a mediator. I’m trusted in confidence to listen without judgement; to question with purpose and to challenge with integrity. Therefore I hear the unfiltered, the unmitigated, the hard facts and raw emotion of how it is in schools right now.

In 30 years I’ve never seen an educational landscape quite like this one. The ‘official’ pretense of normality and denial of reality within schools is damaging our greatest asset: our teachers and school leaders.

This is what I see; this is what I hear:

Schools deserving medals for their ingenious approaches to COVID catch up. Yet receiving only pressure to broaden the curriculum once more.

Leaders navigating the daily volatility of staffing and case numbers; being creative, committed, quick thinking. Yet treated as if nothing is amiss; as if we are back to normality.

Teachers remaining dedicated, skilled, caring, resilient; applying their craft to the diverse needs of nearly two years of learning disruption. Yet facing the uncertainty of workplace safety (COVID/no COVID).

Headteachers standing by their values in the midst of overwhelm and an onslaught of unnecessary pressure. Yet fearing inspection; anxious that they are not good enough.

This is what I see; this is what I hear.

Schools deserve inspiration not inspection.

Schools are worthy of empathy not unrealistic expectations.

Schools need kindness not criticism.

Therefore those who hold schools to account, at any level, should think first; think hard before any request, any demand, any policy and judgement. Test plans against four criteria:

  1. Will this protect and preserve the wellbeing, capacity and expertise of educators and educational leaders?
  2. Will this preserve and enhance the efficacy of a school?
  3. Will this enhance and empower educators to prepare children for 2030, 2040 and beyond?
  4. Is this inspirational? Is this empathetic? Is this kind?

Only act with four clear yeses. If you cannot act with four yeses, then do not act.

Loosen your grip, reduce the burden. Help schools be proud of what they have done; help them emerge from pandemic to the inevitable endemic with praise and with heads held high. And make your thank-yous for this, genuine, authentic and unconditional.

The NHS continues to save the present. Empower teachers to save the future. If we do not, that future will slip through our fingers; that future will break.

The New Way to Grade Schools

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I’ve invented a new way to grade schools. It goes like this:

At end of the scale you’ve got ‘1’. Next to that is ‘C’. After that is ‘Square’ and finally ‘Blue’. So the new grading goes: 1, C, Square, Blue. It’s good isn’t it?!

No! I hear you mutter. No it’s not. Really? Why not? What could be simpler? Four simple grades to communicate the results of an inspection; to let everyone know how a school is doing. A shorthand to judgement and information to help parents choose where to live.

Oh. They’re not from the same category you say. Ah, I see. It should be all numbers or all letters or all colours or shapes to have any meaning and consistency. Ok. Fair point. I’ll have another go. How about this one:

Outstanding – Good – Requires Improvement – Inadequate. There. Any better?

No! NO! you say. Same problem?

Oh yes, I see. The opposite of ‘outstanding’ is ‘mundane’, commonplace, that’s a scale of presence, how much a thing appears different to others, I see. ‘Requires improvement’ goes all the way along its own scale to ‘doesn’t require improvement’. So that’s assessing need. ‘Good’ offsets ‘bad’ (which are moral and ethical judgements) and ‘inadequate’ is the opposite of ‘adequate’, describing quality. Presence, needs, ethics and quality. Four different scales mixed up into one. Hmm, that doesn’t work as a meaningful system does it.

Ok. Let me have one more think. I’m going to have 3 grades and they go like this:

Very effective – Effective – Not Effective Yet

Effective means doing the right thing = fully preparing children for their futures. The grade is simply that. Would that work? Would that be a better way? An internally congruent and criteria-referenced summary?

No. No it won’t work, I tell myself. Not unless we start printing it on banners outside schools, ignoring any other scales out there and agreeing on exactly what ‘effective’ means.

But maybe I’ve got this wrong. Maybe the single word grading is not part of a sliding scale of achievement. Maybe it’s just a ready shorthand telling you all you need to know about a school without having to dig any deeper. Yes. That’ll be it. So it’s like describing a person in a single word. He’s phlegmatic. She’s pusillanimous. They’re sycophantic. And that’s all they are. Hmm, this might just catch on. It’s going to save time and words and lots and lots of thinking.

Or maybe we should do what the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) do. You don’t get a requires improvement nuclear power station. Or an outstanding one for that matter. Teams from different facilities carry out extended onsite visits and engage in deep critical dialogue about improving practice to meet standards. A deep professional dialogue, Yes. I’ll go with that as a new way to grade schools: by the quality of professional dialogue. Does that work?

And this blog? I rate myself blue.

A Better Accountability for Schools

The Window

Wednesday. 12:01pm. A collective sigh of relief from headteachers across the land. Ofsted won’t be coming this week. If you’re currently in ‘the window’ you’ll know all about this weekly crescendo and crash. It’s a bit like a very slow, ominous wave, creeping up the shore (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday), breaking all over you (Wednesday) – cold and full of seaweed – then sliding back down the beach (rest of Wednesday-Sunday), ready for another go. Ridiculous. Pointless. Inefficient.

Here’s a proposal for a better system for the national accountability of schools. It has three parts:

  1. An MOT
  2. Jury Service
  3. Economics

 

1. MOT

CARThe MOT is an annual assessment of vehicle safety and road-worthiness. Introduced in 1960 by Minister for transport Ernest Marples, it checks 21 features including tyres, brakes and the ever useful horn. If you own a car, you know the test is coming, you know you’ll pass or fail it and you know exactly what to do to prepare (make sure your washer fluid is topped up, for example).

I propose a school MOT, once a year, to check that the basics are in place. It costs around £58 and is administered by a friendly, if untalkative, team of eduneers (educational engineers) who drive about in a van stopping off wherever an MOT has been booked. (This model is preferred over taking your school to the test center).

Features tested would be inspired by the actual MOT but relate directly to the quality of educational provision, for example, steering, (i.e. leadership),

2.1.1. Steering gear condition
To check the condition of the steering gear:

Turn the steering from lock to lock and observe the operation of the steering gear.

becomes,

2.1.1. Leadership gear condition
To check the condition of the leadership gear:

Ask senior leaders how they successfully direct the school and accept 2 pieces of illustrative evidence.

2. Jury Service

GavelPeople between 18 and 70 years of age have a civic duty to serve on a jury if called to do so. Roughly 35% of citizens are invited to take part, so there’s a 1 in 3 chance you’ll get asked. Jury members (usually 12) check facts impartially. They are not experts in law – that’s the judge’s role – but they do provide a commonplace view of a legal scenario. They bring reality to bear on an abstract system, they pursue truth based on their life experience and in doing so make our legal system practical and authentic instead of abstract and out of touch.

You know where I’m going with this don’t you. Teachers inspecting teachers (like Challenge Partners already do).

I propose that part of progress to UPS includes an increasing requirement on experienced teachers to inspect, advise and hold to account their colleagues. I’d much prefer tough empathy than uninformed punitive condemnation. Teachers know what it’s like to struggle with pupil behaviour, to wrestle with competing demands and to shoulder target-driven workloads. At UPS, a teacher-inspector wouldn’t accept excuses but they would fully understand reasons.

3. Economics

HandIn 1776, Scottish Enlightenment thinker, Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In this definitive work he introduced The Invisible Hand, an economic concept suggesting that a free market will organise itself without the intervention of government.

He argued that individuals pursuing self interest, in a market where they are free to produce and consume, will cause a natural flow of prices and trade. The market moves as if directed by an invisible hand – which is actually the emergent behaviour of millions of individual decisions about what to buy or sell and millions of judgements about what has value.

I propose that schools should be left alone (apart from an annual MOT and UPS jury service inspections) to get on with the business of teaching and learning. The invisible educational hand will soon get to work. It’ll emerge from the children, their parents, the local community, the media and even the teachers in school and in nearby ones. If a school is failing its pupils, it’ll loose value and pupils will go. If a school is succeeding, it’ll gain value and pupils will arrive. And (heavens above) if we actually attached funding to number of pupils, the invisible hand could really get to work.

You might say this last idea is in play now. That educational capitalism is a travesty which undermines authentic learning and values-driven teaching. Maybe so. But to really see what cards the invisible educational hand will play, we must first remove the very visible and unnatural foot of Ofsted. Mr Gove unleashed market forces into education, but they are not yet free to become fully efficient.

There you have it. My proposal for a better way to hold schools to account for their pupils’ futures (remember, most children in school today will be alive in the 22nd century):

  • An annual basics check (MOT)
  • An expert self-inspection (Jury Service)
  • Market forces (the educational invisible hand)

After all, does anyone loose sleep over an MOT; worry unduly about someone who knows their profession, helping them out; or complain excessively when the price of apples goes up a bit?

Something to Think About

Is there actually any research to show that inspection systems like Ofsted’s help raise progress and achievement? (I’ve not found any yet)

How would you best hold schools and teachers to account?

What is the most effective way to help a teacher become even more effective?

mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Ofsted says learning is…

fredy-jacob-764477-unsplash…a change in long-term memory. Other definitions are available but let’s explore Ofsted’s, starting with three questions I ask children in class and finishing with advice and a powerful memory technique.

Try asking children these questions:

  1. When you’ve finished, what will be different?
  2. How will you make sure that you always know this?
  3. Why can you do this?

The first question has three kinds of answer:

  1. A wild stare; a furious mental scrabble for the correct thing to say.
  2. A shrug.
  3. A clear articulation of what’s being learned, usually with reference to success criteria stuck in an exercise book or displayed on a whiteboard.

The occasional child will say, ‘I’ll be at play time’ or, ‘having lunch’.

The question is powerful because it’s vague and ambiguous: Finished what? – this work? today? school? this question, word, line?

Different? – for me? in my book? in my head? in my life?

Each child brings their own meaning to the answer which is why it’s valuable to us. They reveal what they think is happening and what finishing it means to them. They have to think for themselves, about their learning, and about how things will change while learning is happening. They can’t look to the teacher for help and there is no ‘right’ answer.

Once a child can describe what will be different; what is being learned, then I’ll ask the second question: ‘How will you make sure you’ll always know this/always be able to do this?’

It stumps most children. ‘Write it down again.’ they say, or ‘do it another time.’

And the final question really hurts. It requires a child to reflect and connect. ‘Why can you do this?’ Some say, ‘because I work hard’, or ‘because my teacher helps me’. It’s rare for a child to refer back to previous learning as a foundation for current success.

I’m hoping Ofsted will take a broad, deep and authentic view of what a change in long-term memory actually means, and that its inspectors will value curricula that include lessons on memory skills and thinking skills. If not then it’s missed its own point.

A change in long-term memory is more than knowing the capital city of Iceland because it was drilled in to you 3 months ago. A change in long-term memory means that you can drive a car without referring to an instruction manual every time you sit in the driver’s seat. It means you can remember what to do, how to do it, and actually do it in different contexts (that’s called lateral progression).

So may I offer you three ways to develop long-term memory (Ofsted-defined learning):

  1. Design learning around the Curve of Forgetting.
  2. Ask pupils the three questions.
  3. Teach memory skills.

And here’s a premium Thinking Classroom tool based on an ancient memory technique:

Memory Theatre Thinking Tool

Thinking Classroom

New Ofsted in 10 Bullet Points

sec cameraDo you remember at school when you were getting on with group work and the teacher was roaming around the classroom, having a look, giving a nudge here and there? (we call it assessment in the moment now).

And do you remember that when she came within earshot of your table, you and your friends would seamlessly switch your conversation on to what it was supposed to be about. It was a psychic, unspoken and effortlessly coordinated move between you all which sadly involved raising your voices a little too much; speaking a bit too clearly (so she could hear you) and sadly, James looking right at her as the final giveaway that you hadn’t really been on task.

But never mind, your teacher had done exactly the same thing when she was at school.  And you still do it now in hands-on, experiential training sessions.

It’s one of the great complicities of education (and quantum physics): the observer affects the system (like those cameras in the picture). We all know it but we don’t talk about it. It’s like Ofsted. We are the tables chatting about the whole child; they are the teacher, expecting us to be discussing data. When they enter our orbit, we shift our focus. At least we did. At least they did. Hopefully, from September, we’ll all be on the same page.

I’ve read the final, sorry, proposed new inspection framework and it makes good sense. Not too sure about paragraph 227 but all in all, if those using it genuinely understand its intent, I’m sure their implementation of an inspection will have huge positive impact on teacher well-being and children’s future success.

Disclaimer: I am not Ofsted trained. I just pick up the pieces after they leave or help schools enact their recommendations or support the interpretations of their findings.

However, for what it’s worth, here is a 10-point summary of what you need to do when they roam your way:

1.      Know your subjects

2.      Have and articulate a whole-school ‘shared why’

3.      Stay legal

4.      Be able to justify choices and rationale

5.      Know your curriculum end points

6.      Sequence learning well

7.      Be flexible and design for pupil need and context

8.      Ensure the basics are really, really embedded

9.      Emphasise authentic long-term memory

10.   Show impact

I genuinely would like to hear from any inspectors using the new framework to see if and how they might adapt this.

Oh, and on another note:

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www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

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3 Questions To Find Out If Your Curriculum Is Fit For Purpose

cel-lisboa-73969-unsplashThe challenge with having a curriculum that’s fit for purpose is knowing whose purpose  it’s fit for.

Is yours? Answer these 3 questions to find out:

  1. Does it anticipate the kind of knowledge, skills and qualities that your students will need in order to be successful citizens and global contributors, not now, not 10 years ago, but in 2030?
  2. Is it flexible, responsive, dynamic and evolving?
  3. Do your students authentically enjoy it?

Curriculum is an arena where opinions, biases, preferences and specialisms do battle for minds. If you’re as old as I am (52) you’ll remember the very first drafts of the National Curriculum and the reviews and revisions that followed. You’ll recall the struggles and the strife as we wrestled it into a workable format. You’ll also know that from 1999 (I think? I am 52 after all) we didn’t have to follow it any more. With a sigh and an eye roll we wondered what all the fuss had been about.

Science had started out with 17 attainment targets, each one broken down lovingly and accurately into sub-targets and descriptions of finely tuned academic success. It was a work of art (how ironic) – broad and balanced coverage, interesting and relevant content. And created with no regard whatsoever for the other curriculum areas – whose authors also believed that their subject deserved a big slice of the learning pie.

Eventually (Dearing Review) some sense of order prevailed and we had a workable document. Until the national literacy strategy hoved in to view. Urban myth has it that visiting Russian educators gasped in awe at the hierarchical rigor with which it was disseminated, noting that not even in Stalin’s hey day would a national requirement be delivered with such mechanistic precision.

And herein lies a problem: everyone wants a say. Everybody feels they deserve a piece of  YOUR curriculum, because everybody knows how powerful a document the curriculum is and everybody knows what’s best for (y)our children.  It tells the next generation what to know, what to do, how to be, and, ultimately what to think.

So with Ofsted’s re-polish of their inspection lens to look at what is taught and how (and why if ‘intent’ means what we think in means) we see a scrabble. Companies are betting on the curriculum content with new resources, consultants and trainers are reworking old material in anticipation of a scramble for curriculum help, and schools are wondering if what remains in their long term planning is enough, after the data driven content famine which laid their provision bare.

Is your curriculum fit for purpose? Is it fit for your children’s purposes? If not, how might you redesign it?

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Photo by Cel Lisboa on Unsplash