Why is the Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment still being inspected?

Why is the Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment inspected?

(Adapted from ‘Taking Control’ – soon to be published.)

You could be forgiven if you are wondering why this is still being inspected. I am!

Ofsted don’t grade lessons any more and indeed haven’t graded lessons per se, since the end of Section 10 inspections in 2005. They did, however, create enormous confusion amongst everyone by still giving a grade for quality of teaching seen in a lesson observation (for which at least a 20 minute visit was needed) for another 9 years until grades for anything to do with teaching, or learning were finally ended in summer 2014. Not before time. I’d come to the conclusion that giving a grade for the quality of teaching seen in a 20-30 minute lesson visit was, quite frankly, silly, long before Ofsted stopped. I still had to do it however, and my team inspectors and I were left to feed back to a gaggle of worried teachers words (not grades!) which would convey the gist of, but not show outright, the grade we’d given the teaching. Then if an inspector slipped and talked about grades, I was expected to give the poor soul a ticking off! I know. It was barmy, but Ofsted kept up this pretence that aggregating – no wait a minute, we weren’t actually supposed to aggregate in the end, but really, most did – the grades for quality of teaching seen in all the lessons somehow gave an accurate impression of the teaching that took place in a school, for an awful long time. I was so glad when this nonsense finally came to an end in 2014!

What happened was that in most cases, the quality of teaching (now the quality of teaching learning and assessment) ended up the same grade as ‘achievement’ (now outcomes for pupils). No wonder when you think about it. The exceptions were that a number of schools were graded as ‘outstanding’ but the quality of teaching was only ‘good’ – mainly because not enough ‘outstanding lessons’ were seen over two days so the aggregation left quality of teaching overall only ‘good’. Potty. It did lead to a recognition by HMCI that schools couldn’t really be outstanding, if quality of teaching wasn’t outstanding too, so these G1 schools, with G2 for quality of teaching ended up being inspected and were not initially exempt. Now, if you are G1, you are exempt from inspection. Simple as that. And that’s potty too. All schools should be inspected, but that’s down to cost and why I feel that G1 schools are unlikely to be inspected again any time soon.

The other exception to the matching grades rule of pupil outcomes to quality of teaching was if teaching had improved rapidly and recently, but it has not yet had long enough to impact upon pupil outcomes. These were in the days when inspectors were expected to take into account three years of past data. Even if there had been a real turnaround in the last 12-18 months, at that time, the school could have been be graded RI overall on past achievement. However, both quality of teaching and leadership and management could be a G2. Odd. This anomaly has been removed, to some extent, by the focus, from 2015, on the progress of current pupils. A grade difference probably can still exist, but there is a very close link between quality of teaching, learning and assessment and pupil outcomes.

Lesson visits are important for other things, apart from all the things in the handbook around quality of teaching. They give an excellent opportunity to work with leaders and to assess their skills. Not around lesson observation, but you are constantly picking up the knowledge that leaders have around pedagogy and the way that they work with staff. I organised learning walks with staff to start each of my inspections and if I had team members, I would link them to a member of senior leadership until break, with the instruction to get into at least one lesson every 10-15 minutes. I’d instruct them to look at books, to see if marking followed school policy, look at assessment methods, talk to the teacher and support staff, when possible and speak with pupils. If they picked up excellence in particular areas, or clear weaknesses, I’d expect them to record that. Be prepared for any of these things to happen and especially be prepared for your inspector looking at many more things that quality of teaching, learning and assessment. Also, be prepared for an inspector to sit, observe and take notes. Within guidelines, each lead inspector has their own way of leading and each team inspector has their own way of operating.

I am aware you may still be wondering why this is inspected. So am I. In previous frameworks, the link between quality of teaching (as it was) and achievement was very clear. For instance in the 2014 (September) handbook, the first grade descriptor for ‘outstanding’ read;

Much teaching over time in all key stages and most subjects is outstanding and never less than consistently good. As a result, almost all pupils currently on roll in the school, including disabled pupils, those who have special educational needs, disadvantaged pupils and the most able, are making sustained progress that leads to outstanding achievement.

‘Outstanding’ teaching (OK, never less than consistently good teaching) would lead to most pupils making rapid and sustained progress. Inspectors had leeway to judge within this subjective criterion what was meant by ‘rapid and sustained progress’ and what was meant by ‘never less than consistently good teaching’. The current 2016 handbook does nothing of the sort and every criterion is around what teachers do, how pupils learn and one criterion around information given to parents around assessment. (P47/48) That sounds laudable, but how do you judge that on inspection? These pedagogical criteria cannot be aggregated, so how do you judge if teachers in the school are doing these things and to what extent pupils are learning?

In addition, teachers, collectively, could get superb results but may not focus on many of these criteria. Should inspectors therefore downgrade the school’s TL&A not fulfilling enough of the Ofsted criteria for ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’? You then downgrade the school overall. These are the questions that inspection teams wrestle with and it makes inspection an intellectually stimulating activity. They are also questions that can give you an edge and lift a great deal of pressure from your teachers during inspection.

So what should you do as a school in observing these teachers? Create a tick-list for observation? That would take us back to square one and put horrible pressure on teachers to conform to the pedagogy contained in the Ofsted handbook.

Instead I’d advise a ‘carry on as usual’ approach to teaching during an inspection. That may appear to run counter to my inspection mantra of ‘praemonitus, praemunitus’, but in this case, you are already forearmed. Whatever quality of teaching you have in your school has already been demonstrated by the progress of your pupils, especially those currently on roll. They have already learned, to the day of the inspection. They have already been assessed. Nothing that happens on one day (or three, if the inspection converts) will, or should, change this. So tell you staff to do nothing extra. Don’t prepare extra. Don’t mark extra. Don’t teach any differently. Just come in and do your job, as you would if inspectors weren’t there. Nothing you can do extra on those days, or specifically for those days, will change your grade for quality of teaching learning and assessment. Nothing.

Having got how to prepare for TL&A out of the way, may I return to my opening sentence?

‘You could be forgiven if you are wondering why this is still being inspected’.

Well, I would agree with you entirely if you were. I think this grade should be dropped from inspection. It is obsolete, in my opinion, as nothing inspectors will see on those inspection days will change their minds about your overall TL&A grade. That grade is written in the stone of your pupil outcomes.

Adapted from ‘Taking Control’ soon to be published.

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