Magnifying glass on a desk in front of two open books.

An anonymous guest blog.

In the last 12 months I have had the pleasure (not always) of working in two comparable schools within the same local authority. Both schools, of similar size, face challenges based on the area they serve and the deprivation of their cohorts. Similarly, both schools have recently undergone Ofsted inspections and unfortunately on paper they are both graded the same.

It is in this respect that they are not comparable.

One of these schools is still promoting outdated pedagogical practice and using learning walks and book looks to terrorise and intimidate staff. Particularly when the most feedback ever given to a group of books is ‘Why haven’t you differentiated the task 5 ways in your lessons?’

In addition, practices such as printing out your planning every week to display in your classroom, ensuring your displays are all triple backed, triple marking every single book every day and not once providing CPD in staff meetings and INSETs were just accepted as normal. Teacher mental health and wellbeing was not mentioned and I was once in a situation with a senior leader where it was actively dismissed. All of this before you even start to unpick curriculum design, sequencing and intent. Needless to say, it was thin in all areas and in many non-existent.

In complete contrast, School 2 has invested serious energy and time into teaching and learning with weekly staff development sessions, a coherent and consistent curriculum threaded through with actual evidence and research and clear explanations for decisions being made and followed through. Staff are supported; their time protected and decisions made so that even when expectations are high, workload can still be manageable. The culture at this school is quite frankly, refreshing. People have professional discussions and engage in their practice on a deep level with a focus on achieving high outcomes and experiences for the pupils. Every decision is carefully crafted and has strong fidelity to the core vision and values running through the school. Most notably, staff well being is acknowledged and there is no culture of ‘it’s a tough job, you just have to turn up’.

Don’t for a moment think that I am claiming perfection for School 2 as that would be frankly naive but the difference is extraordinary when compared to School 1. With Ofsted looming, the message from School 1 was ‘do more on your displays, marking and make your lessons jazzy’. Staff were required to have Ofsted ready lessons for the moment the call came. School 2 was required to carry on with showing what we do on a day to day basis. It was still stressful and exhausting but in no way was it insincere or disingenuous.

In School 1 a weekly staff meeting was billed as ‘CPD’ and staff were asked to create a mood board in their year group teams. All of this the night before a ‘mocksted’ and needless to say said mood boards languished at the back of cupboards proving to have little impact on students or staff development. In School 2, weekly staff meetings are focused on a specific area identified to impact pupil outcomes. For example using the EEF and other sources to identify what effective feedback is and how teachers can use this practically in lessons. This short summation above does not even do justice to the complexity and depth of the CPD delivered in practice over a number of weeks.

My question is: then how can these two schools be graded the same? School 1 had one inspector for 2 days and has a thin report of two pages stating it is ‘good’. School 2 had 3 inspectors who were still there at 6.30pm on day 2 meeting with leaders and was also rated ‘good’. The two are not comparable. Not comparable by the experience of staff working there, nor by the pupils turning up each day. Not by the parents and community surrounding it or the curriculum delivered.

There is so much dialogue around accountability and Ofsted ‘ramping up inspection rates’ but in essence if we are not using the same rigour we expect teachers to apply in their teaching to the inspections of such are we not just permitting poor practice to continue unchallenged? I, for one, have escaped the tortuous delivery of VAK learning styles needing to be incorporated in every lesson but if Ofsted perceive that as ‘good’ then there must be others still drowning.

Image by fabrikasimf on Freepik.