Monthly Archives: February 2014

To grade or not to grade – that is the question?

I write this blog after spending the day in what is a truly inspirational building: Manchester Town Hall. Image


I may have spent a little bit of time today looking at the amazing ceiling in the great hall where were sat :   

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My purpose for being there was to attend the Manchester Schools Alliance Leadership Conference attended by Manchester Heads and Chairs of Governors (and also Union reps). By coincidental timing in the context of the recent and growing debate about judging and grading the quality of teaching and learning, Mike Cladingbowl, HMI, National Director of Schools, was the key-note speaker. He was supported by Jo Morgan, HMI who has been appointed as his successor to the role of Regional Director for the North-west and who gave us data on the northwest and Manchester Ofsted picture.


I have read with interest the dialogue on twitter, some of the blogs that have been written already and the paper published by Mike Cladingbowl last week ‘Why do Ofsted inspectors observe individual lessons and how do they evaluate teaching in schools?’


 I have also begun a dialogue with my own leadership team,  with headteacher colleagues and tomorrow will begin that dialogue with my teachers. I was looking forward therefore to hearing Mike speak today to see what additional clarification would be given to the discussion.


Mike began by speaking more generally about how he believes that Ofsted overall has been a force for good.  He also acknowledged his belief that there are several aspects which can be improved and developed.  Through listening to Mike speak today, through a brief conversation with him before he spoke and through what I know about his work with the Headteacher reference groups of which one of my special school colleagues attends, I do believe there is a genuine commitment to listen to school leaders and work with practitioners in developing the Ofsted inspection process. He did however, made it clear that we should not be complacent that all is well in schools and that we need to continue to work hard to ensure that all children are receiving the education they deserve.


Mike  was advocating for the increased number of practising headteachers on inspection teams and encouraging more heads to consider training as inspectors, even to the point of working towards ‘an inspector in every school’. He also encouraged us as school leaders to  reflect and ask ourselves the questions about who are the disadvantaged children in our schools and are they doing well enough, who are the most able and are they achieving their optimum, is the school aspirational enough for all of the children – are all children thriving and what are their holistic achievements. Also, is the school one in which they staff can develop, innovate and teach in whatever way is felt most appropriate as long as it gets the results.  Mike spoke about the responsibility of headteachers to create the conditions in the school in which good learning can flourish. This includes ensuring the issue of challenging behaviour, including low level disruptive behaviour is tackled effectively.


Both Mike and Jo were encouraging an open dialogue with school leaders and spoke about some of the more specific considerations being made to the inspection process e.g. about the length of time between inspections, alternative style inspections for schools rather than the current ‘one size fits all’ model. He also advised that the inspection guidance would be updated as soon as is possible in relation to the New Curriculum ‘post levels’!


With regards to the perhaps more controversial issue of grading of lessons, Mike was unambiguous in that whilst being asked to do so, he would not be suggesting to heads and to schools how teaching should be organised, monitored or evaluated . This was very much a matter for schools themselves to decide.  He did however urge schools not to engage in a series of ‘Mocksteads’ which, in his belief often misrepresent the real thing!


From an Ofsted perspective, he spoke strongly about the value of honest feedback to practitioners about their performance believing it is a positive and helpful thing to do and encouraging the dialogue between inspectors and practitioners to continue, however, he reiterated the points made in his paper from last week, that judging an individual lesson without contextualising it about what the children typically receive (through work scrutiny, consideration of pupil progress over time,  discussion with pupils etc) is not appropriate. 


Since I have been a headteacher, I have always reflected, consulted, amended and updated ways of doing lots of things, including how as a school we ensure high standards of teaching and learning and this latest turn of events is no exception. Our current system is not a tick box one, it is a qualitative one which does include work scrutiny, pupil voice and self evaluation as well as consideration of formative assessments but does result in an overall grade being given. Teachers are involved in the discussion about their own views of the lesson and about the grade allocated.  As head teachers we are still responsible for the overall quality of teaching and our schools will still be judged using the Ofsted criteria.  As I said at the outset, I have already begun considering whether there are better ways of doing things; however do not want to do a knee jerk reaction and remove a system which is working well without a replacement way of working which everyone involved agrees is better.


The debate continues………………………..