Schools shape the character of the nation

Mid – meeting Michael Cladingbowl made this powerful statement with possible attribution to Benjamin Franklin. On arriving home I attempted to clarify this but sadly it was inconclusive. I did however find this:

In the “Times of India” 31.1.2010 Dr Ved Prakash Mishra said…”the destiny of any country is shaped in the classroom”.. which is pretty close. He then went on to say

” schools are real breeding grounds for the students which shape their future and hence a teacher should try to inculcate courage, conviction and character in the students ”

Michael was talking here about the kind of future he wished for his own children  ……for them to be happy and live full lives and enjoy learning. Yes there are arguments which say we have to endure boredom but he put a definite emphasis on them ‘enjoying’ their time in school. Happily this view was shared by all around the table and for me was the defining moment in the meeting; it wasn’t about a bunch of teachers meeting the man from OFSTED, we were all educators together caring passionately about children and wanting the best for them!

Courage, conviction and character also shape the new OFSTED framework. Michael states he wants Ofsted to ” exercise curiosity…rather than demonstrate compliance” when inspecting schools and feels this is a fundamental shift in approach. Inspectors should be empowered to use their professional judgement and not hide behind the rule book; quality assurance needs redefining ….the right inspectors deployed on the right inspections.
This was very interesting because when it comes to PRUs the rule book needs tearing up! We are unique in that we don’t operate in quite the same way as other schools. We are or should be short stay assessment centres with an emphasis on managing behaviour; of course curriculum is important but this has to be viewed in the context of very challenging circumstances in which the dynamics of classes constantly changes as children move in and out throughout the year. Also the nature of our children has altered in that we are getting more and more with complex needs including severe mental health issues. Michael admitted he has no direct experience in our kind of setting but took the point that in such difficult circumstances progress in English and Maths is not top priority…that comes later.
I did mention that some PRUs had encountered difficulties due to lead inspectors lacking direct experience of working with challenging children and he said if that happens to please flag it up ! He appreciates credibility is crucial in a successful system. From September 2015 inspection teams will move in – house under the auspices of regional directors so this will ensure more cohesion, a renewed focus on training and better accountability. He stated that he wants to unify frameworks across the board.

So what might this new world look like? Others have explored what it might look like for classrooms in the future but I am more concerned about the present. We are about to enter life after levels and I for one expect Ofsted to land asap so what is likely to happen ?

I think the key to a successful inspection lies in confidence in the data. In our PRU we use PIVATS to assess progress and their continuing use has been approved by DfE. As assessment coordinator I can demonstrate good progress over time for all our students and can see how this can be further developed to show how well we are doing.
There was a discussion about being able to show three levels of progress but Michael feels that this can be unrealistic; he says it’s not about measuring progress/practice against a template.
Michael says it is important to have successful systems in place and I think this needs to be a starting point in PRUs ; good baselines are vital for us because we lack continuity which can be found in established schools. Uncertainty surrounding this issue has been a key feature in PRU questions for Michael but he endorses my thinking by iterating the need for a simple personalised way of measuring pupil progress…graphs and tables are too vague particularly when you have small numbers of children….this could be the subject of a separate blog; it would be useful to share practice.
If we can’t get hold of previous results we need to focus on making our own judgements very quickly…in any case we have found that information passed to us is often inaccurate! In the brilliant programme ‘Last Chance Academy’ the head admitted that it had been missed that a very able girl would struggle to read the exam questions! My advice would be to always check what the children can and can’t do as soon as possible!

In terms of curriculum, although the focus of inspection is progress in English and Maths, Michael feels broad and balanced should be our watchwords; one future change is to reverse a narrow trend which has been one of the unintended consequences of streamlining the recent framework. I did ask about PRUs who disapplied the national curriculum to concentrate on core subjects and he said that really concerned him. Our primary PRU offers a full range of subjects and he felt that that was how it should be; however OFSTED can’t prescribe what schools do. I think you would have to be able to confidently justify what you do and why you do it; just be aware that in future there may be changes which reflect his views.

Teaching and learning are the focal points of inspection and he believes that this is right. Too many schools deliver a ‘mediocre experience’ in his opinion and there need to be checks and balances in place. However he has made it explicit that teachers are not to be graded on lesson observations.The box will stay on due to cost factors but quality of t & l should be part of a narrative across the school; he states there should be equality in teaching. He envisages feedback could be delivered to groups rather than individuals and I actually think that’s a great idea because it should be about sharing ideas of what is working well and what needs to be improved; it shouldn’t be a backslapping or naming and shaming exercise!
Book/work scrutinies form part of the evidence collecting but he feels we shouldn’t get too hung up about this….talking and listening to children are just as, if not more, important ( I’m really liking this man! ) However, be warned, his pet hate is scrappy, messy
books ! He does feel that teachers should be more confident about what they do, which is encouraging!

Something that was stressed throughout was the importance of relationships. In a PRU setting they are paramount and obviously form the  main plank of behaviour and safety. We were discussing the Leap unit in ‘Last Chance Academy’ and what struck us the most was the quality of interaction and nurturing care shown by staff towards pupils. I said to Michael that is exactly how it is at our school and the head and myself are a necessary, visible presence throughout the school .
Michael wants quality relationships between OFSTED and schools….it should be a dialogue in which the school explains what it’s about and the inspector says ‘show me’. He acknowledges that it is much more difficult to lead/ teach in disadvantaged  schools and for them to demonstrate good results and progress but he strongly believes that we have to do the very best we can. There is a lot of passion in the highest reaches of his department for vulnerable children hence the emphasis on how the pupil premium is used …high standards
should be rigorously pursued and he makes no apologies for schools which don’t at least try to deliver on this.

I’m drawing towards a conclusion but just want to share a few thoughts about the direction OFSTED is travelling in. The good news is I think we are all on the same journey. Michael retains all his educator instincts and this gives him validity in my eyes. He has shown us a vision of a supportive framework which acts as a critical friend rather than being ‘the enemy’. He is refreshingly honest and down to earth; I suppressed a smile when he said he feels that educational research is ‘flaky’…I know many Twitter colleagues   will disagree! He feels that the grading of schools is too convoluted; if he had his way there would be just two: effective and ineffective. He doesn’t actually like the use of ‘outstanding’ and the way schools emblazon it along the front of the building! He also dislikes the way that OFSTED is used as a legitimising process..head teachers take note please!
In the immediate future ie Autumn term OFSTED is going to be in consultation with heads, governors, schools, unions, their own inspectorate, anyone with an interest in education about future changes. He was blunt in saying that in times of change there will always be casualties. But he is going to ask and discuss….which has got to be good!

My overall impression of the meeting was extremely positive. We felt appreciated. We felt involved. We felt valued. And this is only the start…

I want to finish with a definite quote
from Benjamin Franklin who said

              Tell me and I forget
              Teach me and I remember
              Involve me and I learn


6 thoughts on “Schools shape the character of the nation

  1. But wouldn’t much more time be needed if a dialogic approach were to be adopted? Would there really be time for a secondary school music teacher to induct the inspector into their programme of action research for example? (Is pratitioner research flakey?) Time to create a clear space that allows and even calls each person to articulate his or her own values and beliefs. Time for professional disagreement and the recognition of differing ideologies. Time to differ about what constitutes learning, progression. Time to defer judgement.

    • Possibly. What he wants to do is bring in HMIs more; I think this could happen when regional directors on board from 2015. His idea is that in ‘good’ schools HMIs will do a health check every three years so they will possibly be better placed to have that dialogue. They will also continue work in RI schools. I think he is hoping that collectively we can work together to find the best way forward. Initial discussions next term are to give a platform which springboards us to the next level. I think it is commendable that he is willing to have these debates; it’s not about a few lucky tweeps getting their twopenneth in .In fact it amuses him that certain tweeps claim to set the agenda for OFSTED !

  2. Pingback: Ofsted meeting matters; a collection of blogs | Governing Matters

  3. Pingback: ORRsome blog posts from the week that was. Week 34 | high heels and high notes

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