"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Inspector is expected

We are suffering from OFSTED Fever. I don't know whether that is a real condition but it should be. My prescription is calmness and not buying into the hype or, failing that, copious amounts of alcohol when other people do.

OFSTED are expected soon. I have been through this five times now and I have noted with a certain degree of irritation how suddenly we are expected to stop the normal routine of teaching to jump through hoops imposed on us by some senior managers.

Yesterday I experienced a "drop in": a member of our Senior Management Team dropped in unannounced and proceeded to observe my lesson for twenty minutes in the last half of the lesson. I don't have a problem with that: I've been teaching for twenty eight years and am confident in my ability and know my worth. I also feel instinctively that we should have an open door policy and should be willing to accept peer observation. I love watching my colleagues in other subject areas teaching.

He did not ask for my lesson plan, whci I thought was odd.

Ah, but he had a check list. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

He "dropped in" again later to give me feedback.

I'm sorry. It's bad news. I graded you as a four which means unsatisfactory.

I smile non-commitally.

You see some of the kids said they weren't enjoying the lesson. OFSTED would be concerned about that.

I smile again. So my worth is judged by the fact that not 100% of my pupils enjoy my subject. What, I wonder, are the chances of that ever happening in any lesson? Not impossible but very unlikely in the real world of the classroom I guess.

Your marking is up to date but you use smiley face stamps and the like and you use code letters that the kids have to look up in their decoder to see their target. There were hardly any personalised comments.

I'm becoming irritated now.

Do you know how many students I teach whose books need marking?

That's not really the point.

Oh, but I think it is. I have 448 pupils on my timetable. That's 448 books to mark. And you want each one to have a personalised comment each time? That's why I've devised the marking decoder and its grades. There aren't enough hours in the day.

Well that's what OFSTED are looking for.

Then they're applying unreasonable criteria when it comes to R.S. teachers. One size fits all isn't a good policy.


Anyway the kids said you didn't often do group work.

That's not strictly true. I NEVER do group work. Well, not with Year 9.

My colleague looked horrified.

They're too immature. I need to keep them on task and until they're ready to take it seriously - which I will use my professional judgement to assess - there will be no group work. Every time I observe group work elsewhere about a quarter of the kids are actually working and the rest are opting out and chatting. I don't do teaching styles because someone thinks they're of educational value when everything in my experience tells me otherwise.

But it's what raises you above unsatisfactory.

They'll see what they'll see.

But the lesson was too teacher led.

Yes. I am the expert and they learn from me. I don't like this sharing of ignorance: "Let's have a discussion." O.K. you start and I'll join in. What? "But we don't know what to say." Exactly. That's because you don't know anything to discuss yet.

I log on to my computer and bring up the powerpoint I had been using. In the first half of the lesson we did this pairs exercise I show him a creative writing tool designed to encourage pupils to evaluate from two perspectives.

But I didn't see that.

Then you should have come in the first half of the lesson. Are you suggesting that I should compromise the continuity of my lesson content to throw in a sudden group activity - out of context - because an inspector comes in the room?

Well if that's what it takes. They say they do a lot of copying from the board.

Now this one really irks me. If I could guarantee they'd absorb everything I say in lessons for all time, then I'd never require them to copy anything down. But I can't, so they will. How will they revise for the exams - which we are put under incredible pressure to get top grades for, by the way - if they've nothing to revise from? This is an information and content led subject. I show him some of the other activities on the powerpoint, all of which are designed to be a break from writing and all of which are designed to reinforce learning.

Did you use them today?

No. I use one or two per lesson depending on the circumstances.

Ah, but I didn't see them.

So I'm judged on what you didn't see, even though I've shown you what I do?

There was no evidence of pupil peer assessment.

We did that last lesson when they marked each other's answers from a past exam question using the exam board's marking criteria.

Ah, but that wasn't in the twenty minutes I saw.

I transcend the moment. Thank you God.

I shall smile sweetly and do what I always do. Isn't it amazing how my groups get such good grades from an inadequate teacher?

In my time as a teacher I've seen all these trends come and go and reappear rebranded for a new generation. Some are better than others and some are just gimmicks. I look at the assessment criteria I have for my Student Teacher, provided by his university and one leaps out at me: "To avoid the substitution of fun activities for purposeful teaching."

I rest my case.

I relate the incident to a couple of colleagues at the end of the day. I'm not taking this at all seriously but my geographer friend is incensed and the colleague who teaches Social studies is resigned: That'll be me too then.

My student teacher goes home perplexed by the possibility that his mentor is an inadequate teacher.

There is outrage at this morning's Humanities Faculty meeting.

My career, it seems, can be summed up by one snapshot, twenty minute observation that takes no account of the unique demands of my subject area nor any sense of the context of that part of the lesson.

What a great system!


  1. Senior Management Team??? Were they ever teachers? Peter Principle promotions, I expect.

  2. Is this how OFSTED really works or is this how your drop in fears OFSTED works?

  3. Fun isn't it. We're now big enough and powerful enough to be beyond inspection by Ofsted and are permitted self-inspection. The incidence of which you speak becomes all the more often when it is solely in house.

  4. Does the person who did the 'assessment' actually do any teaching? Have they been checked out using the same sort of checklist?
    The organisation I work for recently had a health check by two audit commission inspectors and one of the things that came out was we were doing lots of stuff but were not able to communicate it to them.
    I think any one with any sense would see you were not doing such a bad job and in these days of league tables etc surely if your pupil are doing well that must say something about you - unless of course I am totally stupid!!

  5. I am an OFSTED Inspector. That all your pupils do not enjoy your subject is absolutely normal. I would not give that much consideration - unless of course there was insurrection. I am more concerned that students achieve and that theirs is a quality experience in the classroom.

    The comment you make about your student teacher's assessment criteria is well made and of course we can recognise whether students are being given OFSTED diversionary activities. Is it style over substance? Is there educational value? It may look good but does it promote learning?

    The copying into books issue is an old chestnut: you are absolutely right when you say that students must have work of a depth and quality that aids revision. If the lesson consists only of copying that would indeed be inadequate. That your students may do a lot of copying means nothing providing that there are opportunities for discussion and reflection and alternative meaningful activities. I would want to look at the quality of debate in your classroom for instance, particularly given your subject area. Is there evidence of critical thinking?

    Be reassured: we do take into consideration the context of the lesson, providing that we are given sufficient data and we are very good at recognising an OFSTED lesson. They are not appreciated.

    Inspectors are well aware of individual subject specific issues such as pressure of marking load.

  6. Sir, your poor ego is taking an awful battering. My sympathy to you.

    I hope that the majority of OFSTED inspectors are like the person who left the comment.

    Isn't it amazing how my groups get such good grades from an inadequate teacher?

    There you have it. You've survived for 28 years because you teach your pupils.

  7. Send this to the Times Ed Supplement - or your Union.

  8. F.P: Six lessons of maths a week.