The Journey of the Blogi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
From Bristol, Cheshire, Chelmsford,

To Aviation House,
Where the five invited blogi assembled,
To talk with Mike Cladingbowl,
Ofsted’s National Director for Schools.

So what made me take the milk-train (5:18am) to London that February (2014) half term morning? OK, of course, I was flattered (and slightly intrigued) to learn that Mike Cladingbowl (then Ofsted’s Director of Schools) had “read and enjoyed” my blog. (Though how much pleasure and entertainment can be got from reading extracts of the Ofsted inspection handbook or DfE guidance is questionable, so I dare say it was in fact the quality of the governance-related poetry that drew his attention …. )

Primarily though, it was the chance to engage in discussion around the inspection process, and how Ofsted plan to use social media to ensure that their framework is known to all stakeholders that was my reason for travelling 200 miles to London for a one hour meeting. And why me?  I am aware that one or two tweeters have questioned the make-up of the group (I just went for  a touch of lipstick – didn’t want to overdo things and inadvertently come across as too glamorous to be taken seriously ….) and asked why there was not more representation from women, or from primary teachers, or non-Scots. There were indeed four fellow bloggers wearing trousers that day, who happened to all come from a secondary background. And? Your point is? I wasn’t wearing my “I’m a lady” hat that day, or my (retired) primary teacher mortar board – I was there in my school-governing virtual balaclava of obscurity. There are plenty of wiser / more experienced governance-folk than me out there who could have been asked to attend, but hey – it was a small room, it was an invited bunch of itchy-fingered tweeters and bloggers and there was only one plate of biscuits …… A group of five is never going to be regarded as the basis for a stakeholder model of representation.

Five go to Ofsted (thanks to @JamesTheo)

(Image: @JamesTheo)

So what happened in the meeting? What was discussed?

    There were issues we all regretted –
    The lesson observations given individual grades,
    And the inconsistencies of approach
    Around independent learning, and teaching styles,
    And Mocksted consultants flaky, and charging high prices.
    Then @LearningSpy chidingly grumbling
    About the latest good practice guide for English,
    With its expectation of “fun”, and the references to “active thinking” …

Other pens than mine have already described the main points of the discussion, so there is little point my rehashing those things now. Read their excellent accounts here: Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit), David Didau (@LearningSpy), Tom Bennett / his second report (@TomBennett71) and Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher)

Tom Bennett, David Didau, Shena Lewington, Mike Cladingbowl, Tom Sherrington and Ross McGill

If you are expecting to find out something in this post about the future of school governance within the inspection framework, it is only fair to warn you that this topic did not feature terribly highly within the debate on Tuesday. Was that because it was unfairly marginalised? Not at all – within the allotted time, there was a fully inclusive discussion that focussed very appropriately, given the hour we had, on the badness of individual lessons being given grades for the quality of teaching, and how this practice is explicitly excluded from the official Ofsted inspection process. There was also attention given to “behaviour”, and mention of how schools risk criticism from inspectors for having high numbers of exclusions, but at the same time have to demonstrate their commitment to establishing an orderly and well-behaved learning environment for all students. The third topic was around the perception that Ofsted’s inspectors might still be endorsing particular teaching styles and approaches. I did mutter a few words about governance, and how the focus of governors’ activities is inevitably steered by that which will be inspected. I also hazarded a view that governance is occasionally judged to be good or bad by inspectors who may not have very much recent experience of what it is all about ….. let me know if you have thoughts on this.

   A hard time schools have of it, with the high stakes
   Around their Ofsted grades and reports,
   And the risk of being penalised for exclusions
   Whilst needing to promote an orderly environment for learning.
   All these things we talked of, and more –
   Frogs in boiling water, and snake oil,
   Whether a one-size-fits-all inspection regime was right,
   And how what’s judged gets made the focus.

Each of these areas has significance for governors, most particularly, I think, if your pay policy has at its heart the premise that those teachers whose lessons, when observed as part of their appraisal, are judged good or outstanding should benefit from pay progression, and that those whose lessons are deemed only satisfactory (“RI”) should have any pay increases withheld. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Hmmm ….

This deceptively simple idea may be in danger of being challenged on the following grounds:

  • Ofsted do not endorse the concept of the grading of individual lessons by the use of the grade criteria for the overall quality of teaching in the school (There is nothing to prevent your school drawing up its own criteria for judging good teaching, however, just so long as they are not defended on the grounds that these are what Ofsted are looking for in each lesson)
  • Some researchers have indicated problems around the reliability of lesson observation judgements. ie How likely is it that any two observers would give the same lesson the same grade? (A: Statistically, not very likely, apparently)
  • Others have questioned the validity of such observation judgements.  Is an “Outstanding” lesson, even when judged so by several people, really outstanding in its effectiveness? Does such highly-graded teaching lead to better longterm outcomes for students, in respect of exam success or retained learning? (eg TeachFirst Oliver Beach’s hard-won / much sought after / quite probably deserved “Outstanding” grade for his lessons was disappointingly not reflected in his students’ exam results, whilst, incredibly – and this incredulity is based on the footage we were shown of her lessons – Claudenia Williams’ Y11 group all passed their science GCSE at A* – C)

Hopefully, there are not too many schools who have their pay policy based critically on the outcomes of lesson observation grades to the exclusion of other measures of performance … (eg “Must have 80% lessons judged Good or better”) but there are some. Just check the wording of yours, eh?

   All this was so short a time ago, I remember,
    And we will do it again, but set down this,
   Set down this: were we led all that way for
   Listening or Telling? There was reassurance, certainly
   We had evidence of Ofsted’s stance on lesson grades, and no doubts.


It was delightful to meet such a fine bunch of chaps, all very personable. It was particularly gratifying to encounter Mike Cladingbowl, and to find him so down to earth, receptive to ideas and keen to ensure that things are done right.
Was it a worthwhile session to establish the absolute clarity of view on the giving of individual lesson observation grades? Yes.
Did the meeting have any impact on how governance will be assessed by inspectors in future?  No.


Mike has promised to ensure that the message is given loud and clear to all inspectors that grades on the quality of teaching in the school are not to be assigned to individual lessons. All those in the room were keen to make this message known to school leaders and teachers too – and it has been the key focus in the other write-ups of the day.
(Update 21st Feb: See message from Mike Cladingbowl on the Ofsted website.)

Q: How do we encourage teachers and governors to make use of social media, to keep up to date with changing expectations? What about: “All leaders and managers, including those responsible for governance, have a thirst for knowledge about Ofsted’s expectations, and engage appropriately and with enthusiasm in social media forums of professional discussion“. That should do it …

A Good Friday announcement? No promises were made about the timing or advance warning of any future updates to Ofsted inspection documents – my guess is that there will be some tweaks made to the Subsidiary Guidance and the Evidence Form used by inspectors in the coming days – perhaps this will be flagged up beforehand by Ofsted as pending. Watch this space!

   We returned to our places, our settings,
   Rather more at ease now, in the new dispensation,
   With the confirmations given by Mike.
   I should be glad of another update.


Update: Others have contributed to this discussion over the past few days, so a selection of their views is listed below. It’s not intended to be representative of the debate – just what I’ve come across. Let me know if you think there is an important one missing …..

Postscript: Blogi? “Blogi?” What’s all that about?

The Journey of the Magi – TS Eliot

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
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