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


Preparing for Ofsted!

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for and produced a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted paid my school a visit. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due!

Preparing for Ofsted! 2013

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<div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”; target=”_blank”>PowerPoint</a> from <a href=”; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a> </div> </div>

Lee of the ‘Thought Weavers.’

Praise and Motivation within the Classroom


The answer is No!

Ian Gilbert (Independent Thinking Company) says:

Be aware that we cannot really raise someone’s self-esteem for them, as it is not yours to raise in the first place, hence the word ‘self.’  All you can do is to work to create an environment in which their capability and lovability starts to come through. [1]

So what are you doing within your class/school to promote lovability and capability?

The answer is all in the ‘praise’ that we give the children.   Almost everyone enjoys praise; whether you are 7 or 70.  It’s a pleasant experience to hear you have done something well; but praise should come with a health warning:  If too much is used or it’s not targeted correctly it can be ineffective.   Some practitioners give out praise like confetti but as you have no doubt guessed four fifths of it is wasted and falls by the wayside.  Therefore (In keeping with the wedding theme) effective praise should be issued like the bouquet: directed and caught by just the one person.  However, it goes without saying that we don’t face away from the children and throw praise over our shoulder.

When issuing PRAISE think:

P = PERSONAL: Aimed at just one individual

R = REFLECTIVE:  The learner should be able understand they’ve received it.

A = ASSESSED: You, the teacher, should know why you are giving it.

I = IMMEDIATE:  Catch them doing the right thing and praise immediately.

S = SENSITIVE: Not all children like being praised in front of others.

E = EFECTIVE:  It should have a lasting impact on the learner.

There is nothing wrong with the Jim Bowen school of thought: lovely, smashing, super, great but if you want to promote effective sustainable learning you have to be concise with your choice and use of praise.

There’s a subtle but massive difference between:

 “Well done Sally super writing.”


“Sally the adjectives you have used to describe your character are super.”

 Sally will feel happy and contented with the first statement.  However, in the latter statement she knows exactly what she needs to do next time if she wants to receive that sort of praise.

The giving out of ‘stickers’ to reward children for the learning is also beneficial but remember that gratification I child receives from a sticker lasts about as long as the adhesive on the back.

Knowing the difference between ‘Intrinsic’ and ‘Extrinsic’ motivation was our starting point for issuing praise.

Dealing with children who were extrinsic learners, I soon came to understand that they were mostly motivated by external factors: stickers, certificates, house/table points, postcards home or the weekly mention in assembly.  Nevertheless, if (God forbid) they went a week without any recognition, this would have a major impact on their motivation and their ability to grasp new concepts within their learning.

On the other hand the intrinsically motivated learners sought their motivation from within – enjoying learning for learning’s sake.  They got their excitement or ‘buzz’ from learning a new piece of information, a new skill or after successfully revisiting an item with which they previously struggled.

To summarise we have found it most beneficial to be more succinct and to the point with our praise.   I’m not saying that we don’t, slip into the Jim Bowen role,  you may still hear the odd well done, great answer, lovely explanation within our classroom.

But we now have a greater awareness and you are more likely to hear:

“Thank you Harvinder for that great question, you really got me thinking then.”

“Super Idea Joel, I can see you’ve used the text that we’ve read earlier.”

“James that’s the second time you’ve used that strategy to solve that divisional problem well done,”

How do you praise and the reward the children in your class?  We would love to hear from you.

Lee & David (The Thought Weavers)

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[1] Source of Quote:  Gilbert, Ian, Essential Motivation in the Classroom.  (Routledge, Farmer,London) 2002. p.136

“If I Don’t Know – He Won’t!”

Picture the scene – A warm summer’s evening at the infamous, end-of-year ‘School Production’.  Disaster strikes! The multicoloured coat (a quintessential ingredient for this particular play) is missing!  It is needed on stage in approximately fifteen minutes and I am given the task of retrieving said item – off I set, a man on a mission.

I enter the classroom where all the outfits have been laid out. I am met by two children from my class, a boy and a girl.  Immediately I ask the girl if she knows where to find the coat.  The girl is extremely ‘bright’ and helpful; in fact she is labelled as ‘gifted and talented.’ She searches the classroom for a couple of minutes and when I ask if she has found the coat she confirms my worst fears, regretfully informing me that it can’t be found anywhere.

I then turn to the boy who is labelled Special Educational Needs (SEN).  I ask if he knows where the coat is but before he can reply the little girl innocently interjects –   and what she said has haunted me since.  Her polite reply was… “If I Don’t Know – He Won’t!”

It is clear that both pupils were abundantly aware of the implications of the labels that we, as educators, had attached to them. Perhaps even more significantly, I also asked myself; why did I ask the girl first? Was this an insight into my own subconscious thinking or merely chance? The answered saddened me.

This day was five years ago and it was a turning point in our thinking about pedagogy. Needless to say, we have learned our lesson!

The Thought Weavers