Monthly Archives: August 2014

It’s not where we have been but where we are going: #Ofsted P.S. – Who keeps moving my cheese?

‘The biggest problem facing schools is fragmentation and overload’ Michael Fullan

There are a few things we know about change: Change is inevitable. Change can be good, but change is difficult – really really difficult. Yet here we are, once again in schools facing many huge changes including new National Curriculum, abolition of assessment levels, SEN reforms to name a few. All huge in their own right but when they come at us altogether……..

Someone keeps moving the cheese!!!

In this context, a time of huge change with still a number of uncertainties, everyone in schools, regardless of role and responsibilities, can feel very vulnerable. So enter Ofsted into the mix with the very varied and frequently very difficult inspection experiences that colleagues including myself have faced ( or in some cases still facing), it is not a surprise that people have many questions to ask!

The opportunity came about for me, along with a number of colleagues to find my way to floors 5 and 6, Piccadilly Gate, Manchester and participate in a meeting with Ofsted’s National Director of School Reform, Mike Cladingbowl @mcladingbowl.

Ofsted sign          Ofsted group pic


Despite being given a very generous three hours of Mike’s time and a very broad discussion, it was not possible to cover all questions raised by colleagues, however, please be assured that the offer to email and respond to those was made, so for those that raised questions via me and they remain unanswered in this blog – I will follow up on your behalf and feedback in due course. There was however a number of key themes that emerged from our discussions which were:

  1. The validity, consistency and reliability of inspection judgements
  2. Balance of data versus other evidence
  3. Conduct, culture and relationships with inspection teams
  4. Inspectors making judgements about quality of teaching / teachers
  5. The future of inspection including Quality Assurance

For brevity and hopefully ease of reading I will note key points regarding each of these in bullet point form:

The validity, consistency and reliability of inspection judgements 

  • Mike spoke strongly about inspection being an art not a science
  • It would be easy to formulate an algorithm for ‘scoring’ judgements but we all agreed that would not be a helpful or preferred solution
  • A huge focus on inspector training and quality assurance to continue to raise standards / reliability / consistency of professional judgements made during inspections

Balance of data versus other evidence

  • The new system of assessment without levels needs time to embed in schools. Schools need to be clear about what children need to do by certain ages on the basis that the finish line fixed, working backwards in milestones bearing in mind children have different starting points. Schools needs a system to show that their children have made progress
  • Inspectors should ask basic questions – Are your children making good enough progress? How do you know? Let’s go and look at it in the classroom and you show me – delivering teaching, talking to children, workbooks etc – in whatever way schools can demonstrate – don’t need reams and reams of written work but need to be able to demonstrate in confident way.
  • Schools should NOT legitimise things that are required as evidence in the name of Ofsted

 Conduct, culture and relationships with inspection teams 

  • There was an acknowledgement that there is a variability of inspectors – inspectors are not infallible
  • There is a strong desire and intention to get the message out to inspectors via training about what is required in all aspects
  • Much more emphasis on inspector training rather than what is in the written guidance – by bringing ‘in- house’ to Ofsted (rather than via current contractors of Serco, Tribal and CFBT) can get messages out more directly and more quickly.
  • All about getting the right people in the right places with the right skills at the right time.
  • Schools are about people and inspection is a human business. Sometimes it has felt like 2 people talking to each other and using language which isn’t about the fundamental business

 Inspectors making judgements about quality of teaching / teachers

  • It is clear in the inspection training and guidance that there is no Ofsted preferred method and judgments should not be made on individual lessons
  • Won’t necessarily be removing the judgement box from Evidence Forms but action taking if filled in inappropriately  as inspectors would be contravening guidance
  • Observations contribute to overall judgement including talking to children, looking at data, work scrutiny etc
  • Opportunities for inspectors to give feedback to groups of teachers / in different ways. Feedback should be on strengths and weaknesses ( or areas for development) not grades
  • The new framework allows teachers opportunity to explain why they have made decisions / choices they have for teaching

The future of inspection including Quality Assurance

  • It isn’t possible to bring about a big system change without some unintended consequences as things develop and settle
  • Acknowledgement that there are risks as change occurs it but worth is worth it as what will be gained is for the greater good
  • There is more emphasis on a broad and balanced curriculum / SMSC / arts and culture – BRAVO!!!
  • Bringing inspection direct to Ofsted so Ofsted are able to get messages out more quickly and more directly
  • The senior team in Ofsted want to encourage more face to face discussions with people in schools in all roles and responsibilities and including pupils, parents and governors. Consultation with teacher unions has already begun. Important way of dispelling myths and also collaboratively planning for the future
  • Encouraging many more practising heads to train as inspectors – people who have current experience ‘at the chalk face’ (although there is an acknowledgment heads can be biggest zealots!)
  • There is an intention to consult on inspection in the autumn term in a range of ways – wish to get consultation done before general election and any changes for next Sept although some changes may be incremental. Consultation will include things like notice period (including no-notice). Testing out methodologies etc
  • Proposals for different types of inspections for schools that are good – HMI visits –shorter – full and frank professional dialogue and a letter to follow the visit ( maybe over time ‘grades’ for inspection become irrelevant in this way?)
  • Inspectors ask – show us curriculum, what you are expecting children to do, how you are assessing / rationale, how do you know they are achieving then let’s go to class and see if they can do it – don’t over complicate it. Don’t legitimise things in school in the name of Ofsted that Ofsted are not asking for!
  • Fundamental shift – asking inspectors to make more professional judgements
  • New National Director for Quality Assurance appointed – (regional structure to QA)
  • It is not just about compliance with rule book – that’s not enough – It’s about recruiting right people and giving them right training
  • Inspectors are being encouraged to use their professional judgement – not without risks – but direct employment and high quality training to support this
  • HMI employed to get out and about more
  • Data / number crunching on inspections – spotting outliers

 To conclude

Without belittling or belying what has happened during inspections in the past, it is apparent both from both my own experience and that of others; there is a sincere wish to work collaboratively with schools from now on. This is evident from not only the face to face and social media engagement but also through the messages given in the new inspection handbook and in the organisation, content and delivery of training for inspectors. Included in this is a newly established monthly newsletter

photo (4)

Maybe then it is not about where we have been but where we are going? Working on the premise that I am sure no –one would disagree with that everyone involved wants the best for the children and young people, this is an opportunity that we should welcome and embrace.

Thank you Mike for so generously giving us your time and for your frankness and your honesty. Thanks also to colleagues who attended with me for their participating and contribution to what was a really good professional discussion and to twitter colleagues for questions before and interest, comments and support afterwards.

The cheese is going to keep moving let’s face it!  It’s early days – let the dialogue continue!!



#CaringIsSharing : Considering Staff health and wellbeing

What a good idea of @MartynReah to invite and encourage others to write a guest blog on the theme of #CaringIsSharing. Here is my contribution.

When deciding what to write about I picked up on the two key words ‘Caring’ and ‘Sharing’.

With regards to ‘Caring’ and thinking about the context of school, staff health and wellbeing immediately sprung to mind. Staff are our biggest and in my view the most important and valuable resource in school. Rightly so, we expect hard work and high standards from the staff team. In order for this to happen in a way that staff feel valued and supported, staff health and wellbeing must be considered. Again, it is not only me that has been recognising, exploring and discussing this important area as it has been an area which has been voted for discussion on more than one @SLTChat #SLTChat earlier this year.

I am delighted that in July 2014, in addition to the Investor’s in People Award at Gold Level, @CamberwellPark, we were also awarded the separate Investors in People ‘Health and Wellbeing Award for the second time. This blog is therefore about ‘Sharing’ some examples of the things we have implemented in our school that have made a difference to staff health and wellbeing:

  • An established health and wellbeing group with a representative from all staff peer groups in school. The group meets once each half term
  • Staff health and wellbeing / work-life balance is discussed routinely as part of appraisal meetings for all staff to ensure all staff have access to a personalised, confidential discussion and to give health and wellbeing high status
  • Staff have access to a counsellor for solution focussed discussions ( she attends school once per week to deliver play therapy sessions for the children and staff can make lunchtime appointments to see her)
  • Tea, coffee, milk, sugar, hot chocolate available to staff free of charge in the staffroom
  • Massage chairs in the staffroom
  • Staff surveys specifically about health and wellbeing – finding out how staff feel about a range of issues across school – how they affect them and things that make a difference to them.
  • Having an allocation to staff health and wellbeing in the budget
  • Health and wellbeing related training sessions e.g. stress management

The staff team are really important to me. I am Passionate about working alongside my colleagues as part of the whole team, I am Respectful of their individual needs as members of staff, I ensure we have an Organised, consistent and transparent approach to health and wellbeing, I Understand that people are human beings as well as members of staff and as such have an open-door to support with personal and professional issues as they arrive and I am Dedicated to enabling and empowering my staff to be the best they can be in their jobs which in turn means the pupils receive the highest possible standards of provision. I am #PROUD to be the headteacher of Camberwell Park School.

With regards to nominating a colleague who doesn’t usually blog – I would like to encourage and nominate Jay Virk (@virkjay). She is always so very caring and willing to share with all of her twitter colleagues. I would love to read a Caring is Sharing Blog from her – come on Jay!

Mary Isherwood


Originally written  and published on August 21st 2014 to feature as a guest blog for @MartynReah – see links below:





A self- improving school system? The value of challenge and support from peers in school improvement

This blog has come about following the response to a tweet on my Twitter account @Mishwood1 in which a colleague had suggested that the idea of schools inspecting each other would be a positive one. When I replied saying we already do this in our network but my preference would be to call it challenge and support, the ensuing questions led to me sending a very detailed email about our work, during which I wondered whether others might find information about what we have been doing useful.

This is therefore a very practical blog sharing information about two different networks I have been involved in including honesty about the challenges but the overwhelming positive impact in school and why I would advocate other schools to endeavour to establish cross-school evaluation links with like- minded colleagues.

The idea of school to school challenge and support is not a new one, indeed we have all I am sure been involved in aspects of it for many years in ad-hoc and informal ways. It has gathered momentum however for all sorts of reasons perhaps including the demise of school improvement elements of Local Authorities and the increasing recognition of the value and impact of working collaboratively across schools. I have heard Professor David Hargreaves speak a few times in a compelling way about self-improving school systems and the range of models of school-school challenge and support and only yesterday re-read his thinkpiece written for the NCSL in 2011

There are of course existing, well established systems of school-school challenge and support, one of the best known perhaps being Challenge Partners . I know of many schools who are a part of Challenge Partners and find it works really well for them and their schools. There is also the growth of Teaching Schools and their alliances which also can provide elements of challenge and support as part of an overall package responsive to the needs of the schools which are a part of it.

So – What networks, Who, When and most importantly Why?

Network  one- a special school and Manchester only network based on reciprocal school to school self-evaluation visits

This particular network which ran for 2 years was established on ‘opt in ’basis’ where we worked in ‘triads’ to visit each other’s schools. So, broadly speaking:
• 12 schools in the programme
• Each school received 1 visit per year visited by 3 colleague headteachers
• Each head teacher visited at least 2 other schools during the year
• The ‘receiving school’ decided the focus for the visit (e.g. I chose to a learning walk, some joint lesson observations and interviewing subject leaders of core subjects)
• The receiving school involved whoever they wanted from leadership team ( so joint observations were with me, my deputy and one of my AHTs for example and feedback discussion was whole leadership team)
• The feedback was a useful professional discussion for all involved – Honest and open dialogue in which we all felt we were able to reflect critically on our own practice and were able to support each other with ways of moving forward on areas of development.
• One of the visiting HTs was nominated to write a brief written summary of the visit in the form of WWW and EBI and included agreed good practice to share with wider special heads group. Sharing good practice with the wider group enabled everyone in the group to know where they could go to for developing a particular aspect of their school.

With this programme it needed one person to lead and manage it (it was me in my role as an LLE). When I stopped leading and managing it no-one else felt to take it on so whilst we continue to do some elements of this in an informal way – inviting colleagues to come into our schools, it is not done to the same degree. If there is a group of schools who are willing to engage in this way however it was a very powerful and positive way of working.

Network two – a mixed group of Manchester mainstream and special schools

We have just completed year 2 of this network and it is growing stronger all the time. It started with me and a colleague mainstream primary headteacher who discussed what opportunities a close network could provide for our schools and we invited two other like-minded headteachers to join us. (Three mainstream schools and us as a special school). It is still at that, four schools. We have talked about increasing it to six in the future but probably not more than that for we feel that the small numbers of schools but most importantly involving the wider school community, helps us to achieve the greatest impact.

We initially met as heads and deputies, a strategic group. Together, we decided to make it successful we wanted to engage a facilitator. This has been a significant factor which has meant we can all engage fully in the meetings without any one of us ‘chairing’ or taking any responsibilities. The facilitator does the minutes, reminds us of meetings etc – takes all the pressure off us! The facilitator is an educational consultant who is not involved in any of our schools so is able to be impartial and challenges our thinking during discussions.

We have called our group MC2SP – Manchester Challenge to Support Partnership

Our early meetings setting out were about setting out ground rules as trust is clearly of paramount importance. Also establishing what we wanted to achieve – a conversation we re-visit as the group develops and extends. We all pay money into an account with one school as banker school to cover costs.

We have a strategic meeting once each half -term at a local hotel, starting with buffet lunch then meeting all afternoon. These meetings are really important to set and maintain the direction of our work and evaluate the impact of other groups working across our network. These meetings also include elements of challenge and support e.g. we have presented and shared our SEFs – on what basis we are making judgements about aspects of our school.

As already mentioned and a very important elements of the network is that we were keen it wasn’t just a leadership team network so have linked up others across our schools, for example, the ICT subject leaders working on VLEs and new Computing curriculum, Maths and English subject leaders and teachers from EYFS have been engaging in some cross moderation as well as looking at the new curriculum, Senior TAs have visited each school on learning walks and have been working on evaluating impact of TAs on teaching and learning across the network. Again, most importantly, as the children are at the heart of our schools, the children too have been linking up. Last year the children joined for a ‘singing Square’ of the four school choirs. This year, a sports event.

We have also engaged in the school to school visit elements including joint observations at each other’s schools and looking at other aspects of leadership and management e.g. appraisal. Really valuable CPD for everyone involved.

MC2SP is growing. We are extending the collaboration work we do across our schools to Governance during this next year and have a meeting booked for headteachers and chairs of governors in September. We have also made contact with similar networks operating in our neighbouring authorities of Bury and Rochdale discussing the possibility of a shared conference.

Finally therefore

You will have sensed that I am an advocate of school to school challenge and support. There is a real validity of hearing constructive criticism from colleagues who are ‘doing the day job’ and whose judgement you trust. The integrity of open, honest feedback is key so for this reason trust is essential.Having an external view in this way has enabled us to validate and celebrate our good practice and reflect and act on our areas for development.

This is our way of doing things in a way that is right for us and our schools. Our model of a self –improving school system that works for us and is evolving all the time as the partnership grows and the needs change.

I hope it has been helpful for others to read.