I visited City Hall the other day, the seat of London’s mayor. On entering the building I had to go through an ‘airport-style’ security procedure with an X-ray machine for my bag and a walk-through metal detector. Having done this, overseen by a couple of security guards, I walked into a lecture hall and waited around for a while until a cleaner came in and told me there was nothing on in this room; I then went into a lift that would only take me to three of the ten floors. After a while of this aimless wandering I was lucky enough to meet someone who could help me find the room I needed to be in. The official control systems were in place but there was no receptionist (like at the primary school where I work) so I was lost. This made me think of the English education system where centralised control and measurement have priority over actually helping teachers find their way i.e. develop their practise.
My son’s school recently had to undergo an Ofsted inspection. The school ended up being given a ‘3’ which translates as ‘in need of improvement’ (aren’t we all). Here is the letter I sent to the headteacher. It was photocopied for all teachers in the school and a copy now takes pride of place on the wall of my son’s classroom. I hope that it might inspire other parents to write similar letters of support in the same circumstances.
Here is a letter published in the Metro free newspaper on 15th October. It is from a ‘Disgruntled Teacher’ (not me!) Well done Metro for printing it and well done Disgruntled Teacher for sending it. I know just how you feel.
Readers have been blaming teachers for the below-average level of young people’s literacy and numeracy. I would like to point out that teachers are under constant scrutiny and pressure to drive pupil attainment higher. As a primary school teacher, I must ensure my seven and eight-year-olds reach specific attainment levels by the end of the year and I am subject to termly moderations to make sure they are all on track. I am wholly accountable for their progress.
My problem is that this increased pressure on children to perform and make progress means opportunities for exploration and enjoyment of learning are pushed aside as there is ‘no time’. We are creating classrooms of robots who lack self expression and interest. As teachers, we are under such strict time constraints on what must be covered that it is having an adverse affect on education. So they may be able to write a perfectly formed letter at seven but at what cost?
Disgruntled Teacher via email
I was invited to observe a colleague’s lesson as part of some middle-management training. The idea is that if a school’s management know what the correct judgement for a lesson is (outstanding = 1, good = 2 etc) then that school knows its staff and will be able to explain itself to any visiting inspector. The process was straightforward enough but also insidious. The denial of subtlety and the insistence that learning can, and indeed must, be seen to be happening in front of any observer’s eyes is absurd, unintelligent and unjust.
Some thoughts on the Ofsted inspection process
There needs to be an acute awareness of the fact that what an observer sees and subsequently says is subjective. This is why non-judgemental feedback is crucial. The ‘Ofsted-style’ grading is divisive and unhelpful. It’s wrong for Ofsted to do it every few years and it’s even more wrong for staff within a school to do it to each other every term.
The following quotes in bold are from a recent lesson observation; these quotes are followed by my thoughts on each one. The intention is to show how a system of quick judgements can be both inaccurate and destructive. ‘Performance-related pay’ is being pushed through at the moment as the obvious solution to poor teaching. The following few points illustrate how easy it is to make inaccurate judgements. There is also a sense that the final grade is more important than the development of the teacher’s practice. This has disturbing implications for a new era of ‘performance related pay’.
I sent the following message to a fellow teacher who has been treated with contempt by those employed to support and guide her. She had taught a literacy lesson to a class of five and six year olds. Some of the children had used ‘ellipsis’ (as a set of dots) in their writing because they had learned about these three little dots earlier in the week. The children knew about them and were intrigued by them and by their special name: ellipsis. The management/observers regarded this as reason enough to dismiss the entire lesson as ‘inadequate’. Curiously they felt the need to ‘reassure’ this particular teacher that she was an outstanding teacher but – due to the grave matter of five year olds messing around with dots – the lesson in question had to be judged as ‘inadequate’.
A message of support: