On the 27th and 28th of September 2012, we were ‘done’! The views, observations and opinions below are my thoughts following the OfSted inspection. They are my reflections and mine alone – and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer.
So the email circulated at lunchtime on Wednesday: ‘Urgent meeting in the staff room at 3.15pm’. For someone who has been through four Ofsted inspections, it could only mean one thing!
So the frantic preparations began for the arrival of the inspection team the next morning. My first thoughts went back to our last inspection in 2009, where we were graded as ‘satisfactory’ and the comments made then, that too much teaching was safe. On those two days, many went into their comfort zone and relied on lessons delivered from the front with power point led lessons, trying to cover all bases with pages of objectives, NC level aims etc etc. As a result the quality of teaching was graded as ‘satisfactory’.
We were ‘done’ last time at the start of the new framework in 2009 and as a result, felt aggrieved that we had been dealt with harshly. Since then, the framework has changed twice and each time we had been told that the threshold in each category had been raised…. Gulp!
As a school we have been through quite traumatic events over the last few years, but throughout, the staff and students have worked very hard to ensure that for the last five years, our results have improved year-on-year. As a result, I was convinced that we deserved better.
So, I sat down to re-plan my lessons for the next two days – as you do. I had already planned some lessons, lots of group work, laptops, movement etc, so was thinking of how I could change them to make sure that I was fully in control and that I could ensure that behaviour was not an issue. Ten minutes later, I thought…. Actually I am not going to change anything. There was plenty in these lessons that could go wrong (and did by the way) but, this is how it is. All my previous in-school, county and OfSted observations had been positive, so why change it. I did my lesson plans – very brief and hand written on our department template and photocopied another set of seating plans from my folder.
Day one, full teaching day…. Nothing. The door was open all day, but nobody arrived. Day two, Period 1, Year 9 arrived. In they came, register done and lesson introduced based on the storms and floods across the UK that week as part of the ‘Deadly Geography’ unit. Many of the resources they needed I had collected earlier that week and posted: http://abbeyfieldhumanities.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/stormy-weather-expected-this-week.html
These were to be accessed via the laptops I had booked. So the trolley was sat at the front of the room humming away – enough for one between two. Working in groups, they had to investigate the causes, effects and possible future management strategies that could be employed in the event of a similar flood event. In addition, the groups had a blank UK map, atlases, sugar paper and three newspaper articles from papers I had bought on the frantic drive to school that morning.
Quick 5 minute intro from me – two simple slides on the whiteboard. Slide one – A single lesson objective. Slide Two – What the presentation had to include for each NC level to be achieved…..and then they were off. The room was swarming with bodies moving all over the place, collecting laptops, loading laptops, bits of paper everywhere, students wandering around collecting resources etc. I just stood and watched…
What have I done? They could have all been sat in silence, writing in their books and I would be nice and calm, checking progress, giving the SEN children scaffolding worksheets, asking difficult questions of the AG&T students and providing writing frames to stretch them etc. Instead, it looked like chaos (to me).
Two minutes later, all the laptops crashed! Sir… Sir….Sir…Sir…. aarrgghh! I turn around just in time to see the inspector arrive, followed by the inspector inspecting the inspector! My career was flashing before my eyes. Is this what it feels like just before a heart attack?! I thought.
I took a moment…… this stuff happens all the time, things go wrong in my lessons and you adapt and get on with it. So all the laptops were shutdown and returned to the trolley (which at that moment was going to have a meeting with a large sledgehammer at some point.) and we carried on. The kids were not fazed, it was not unusual for technology to fail in the lesson (DVD, projector, laptops etc), so they just carried on, using the newspaper articles instead. I appeared to be the only one who was remotely bothered!
The kids were great, working in their table groups – totally absorbed. For the next 40 minutes the two inspectors wandered around, talking to the kids, asking questions and making copious notes. I was virtually redundant! I didn’t stop the class once. I did no teaching from the front, just circulated checking they knew what they were doing and giving suggestions and instructions to the student who had been put in charge of each table.
Five minutes before the end, we wrapped up, did a quick plenary and off the kids went. The inspectors and I were left alone in the room……. Deep breath….. ‘Any chance of some quick feedback?’ I ask. ‘Amazing… Outstanding’ came the response. The relief was overwhelming.
To summarise, she said that by talking to the kids, it was clear to her that this was not a one-off Ofsted lesson and I was just doing what I normally do and not playing it safe – relying on teaching from the front to have constant control of the lesson. Things go wrong, but so what? she said. They were all engaged, they and we were clear about what they were meant to be doing and were doing it….. Maybe the laptops can live for another day then!
I can’t say yet what we were graded as a school until the report is officially released. All I can say is that we are very happy. I guess the feedback from the inspector following my lesson sums it up. We didn’t all play it safe. We just did what we normally do. As teachers we regularly plan interesting, challenging, risky, thought-provoking, topical lessons. Colleagues at my own school do and I know from the tweets I read from the geography teachers I follow on Twitter via @_DavidDrake
, many, many others do too on a daily basis. Things often go wrong, and normally we just chalk it up to experience and learn from it for next time, but when we get ‘the call’ or get observed for Performance Management we can sometimes seize up and teach like we are back in the 1950s. I know I have sometimes.
When you get ‘the call’, and the people with clipboards arrive at your door… just do what you do. Staying up until 2 am producing copious pages of power point slides with 15 differentiated objectives, mini-plenaries every 10 minutes, 6 page lesson plans, 20 different worksheets for every conceivable type of student will just make you look like death warmed up…. Forget it.
In my humble opinion Mr Gove, there is a reason that GCSE and A-Level results keep going up and it is not that the exams are getting easier. It is that the quality of teaching in this country is the best it has ever been. The vast majority of teachers work ridiculous hours and invest a massive amount of time, care and energy into the schools they work in and the students they teach. The idea that we stop work at 3pm and need to work harder is frankly ignorant to say the least. As someone who has worked with teachers in 12 different secondary schools in Wiltshire whilst a county-AST I feel that I have a reasonable amount of evidence to back up this view.
So, fellow Super-heroes – don’t play it safe when they arrive… Take the risks you normally would. That’s what we keep telling our students isn’t it?
Take a backseat and let the students carry on. Then when it’s all done and dusted, have a big Full English Breakfast!
UPDATE – Thank you for all the positive feedback I have received about this post on Twitter @_DavidDrake Much appreciated