The Ofsted Effect

I visit many schools and talk to hundreds of professionals all of the time. Never far from the conversation is Ofsted. Ofsted worry schools to the point that the whole ethos is to please Ofsted. This is wrong because a school’s ethos should be built around its pupils.

I was listening to Mick Waters just the other week and he talked about ‘Game Theory;’ the idea that organisations adjust their practices because of the coercion of others. He gave the example of the railways. Since privatisation, the government has set train operating companies punctuality targets, in response to this the timetables have been adjusted to allow for more ‘slippage;’ the outcome is simple, journey times are longer but targets are met. A classic case of:

“Hitting the target but missing the point”

Schools are in danger of doing precisely this! The Ofsted game has led to some dubious practices; below are just a few that come to mind:

The learning objective must be shared.

We’re not saying it should never be shared, but for every lesson? Surely great learning is great learning and pupils will know this! We shouldn’t forget that learning is never ‘objective!’ It’s a personal process, it belongs to individuals and groups; it is therefore subjective!

The mini-plenary.

Of course great learners need time to reflect, to think about how it might be used; a chance to ponder. However, I heard a story the other day of a class given just 1m 40s before the first mini-plenary was delivered. Pupils need time to question, discuss and just to get on with learning; they don’t need the teacher stopping them every five minutes to check progress.

The end of curiosity.

I’ve seen too many lessons in the past 5 years where the learning outcome is measured in levels. The message is clear; “no need to be curious or inquisitive, I’ve given you the outcome using an arbitrary numerical level and that’s where we’re all heading.” What happened to wonder? Wondering what the outcome might be, the chance to play, to experiment and take risks. I asked a learner in July what he needed to do to get better at maths and he replied “Get a level 5.” Earlier this year I asked a girl what she was learning in English and she replied “AF5” – she could tell I was bemused. I then asked her why and she replied “to get a level 4.” Needless to say writing for pleasure is not one of her pastimes!

Tick Box Teaching

The arrival of the ‘lesson observation grids’ has done great damage to teaching. Instead of teachers, the danger is we become technicians; just ticking the boxes as we go along and ticking as many boxes as possible when an observer is in. Of course there should be guidance, hints and tips, strategies shared and practice observed but when you’ve seen practitioners shower praise like confetti, include a dozen mini plenaries and share enough differentiated learning outcomes for the entire population you know it’s ‘Tick box Teaching.’

Teaching to the tests.

Ofsted predominantly measure a school by their ‘standards.’ Some argue this is not the case, but I’ve yet to come across a school with 100% level 4s at KS2 who’ve been put into special measures. So along comes the ‘SPaG’ test and hey presto, grammar lessons are back on the menu, the ‘how many pieces of punctuation can you fit in a sentence’ game is played and spelling tests, lots of spelling tests! Some argue that children should have this type of experience, but if they felt so strongly why weren’t they doing it last year?

If we continue down this ‘Game,’ education will lose its heart, writing will be a technical experience marked with levels, learning will become boxes to tick and teachers will become robots who simply deliver the packages of contents…And pupils…I fear for them…

So please, follow your philosophy, don’t be compliant and ensure the children in your class/school enjoy an education fit for their futures.

The Thought Weavers


10 thoughts on “The Ofsted Effect

  1. Yes yes yes! I’m working with wonderful NQT for writing project and they are incredibly conscientious… the NQT has just joined an “outstanding” inner city primary which is about to be re-examined by OFSTED for hopefully the last time… Teacher is so concerned about hitting all targets that our creative writing project (which was commissioned and designed to get the kids to be as creative and free thinking as possible) has all but stalled. It seems that with the best will in the world teacher has simply not enough minutes in the day to ‘add in’ creativity while still ticking all the boxes, spelling etc. Even scheduling my visits is a herculean task!
    …But if teacher doesn’t achieve all the right standards then they will have failed the school, right?

  2. I totally agree.
    Education is such an amazing and wonderful thing – more than a process even, yet it is being trivialised and process-driven for political reasons that are short-sighted to say the least. As a teacher with over 20 years experience I’d like to have changed things for the better but who knows what the future will bring?
    (By the way, do you mean, “don’t be compliant” near the end of this piece?)

    1. Thanks for your comment. We fear that teachers are becoming robots who are simply programmed by ofsted.

      PS I’ve changed the spelling! Spelling has never been a strength of mine 🙂

  3. I entirely agree. This is one of the most significant reasons that I
    have recently left teaching, because it is not possible to focus on
    what is actually important. It is an increasingly difficult job to
    keep what matters at the top of the list of priorities when the list
    is so very long, and mostly requiring attention by at least yesterday.
    I hope that there are still lots of strong-willed and principled
    teachers out there fighting the good fight against the box-ticking
    pressure, otherwise children will be left with only those
    concentrating on playing the game rather than doing the job.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Our big worry is that as teaching becomes more and more formulaic, professionals like yourself will be put off. This is a real shame. Hopefully there is enough of us with supportive SLTs to swim against this ridiculous tide.

  4. You are so right. We should never do it for Ofsted. We should always do it for the children.

    I help run a preschool and actually (even though we got a good Ofsted report) I do not care what they said about us. Because we know that we do our best for our children every day. Not just for the 3 or 4 hours that the inspector spent with us. It’s the children’s daily experience that matters, not what some outside body happens to say about you. That’s what it means to have integrity.

    If you try to please others in teaching, you will drive yourself mad. As a teacher you should do what you believe in for your students, always. And in any case, eventually the cycle will come back round and Ofsted/SLT/LEA will tell you what you have always done was the right thing all along!

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