The Challenge of Retaining an Outstanding OFSTED Grade

Back in 2007, we were really proud at South Molton CC to receive an outstanding grade from OFSTED. We have worked very hard to grow our GCSE results since then, but are fully aware that another inspection could happen at any time. Since we received the last report, our focus has been to plan a way forward to maintain our outstanding grade, and one of my responsibilities as a senior leader has been to support staff as they strive to deliver outstanding lessons.

We have devoted a lot of time trying to identify the essential components of outstanding teaching and learning, as well as getting to grips with the way inspectors operate under the revised OFSTED framework. As a way forward, I put together a document that tied together all of the elements that might be evident in an outstanding lesson:

Download your own copy here:   Outstanding Lessons Summary

 This was intended to be used as an aide memoire checklist only – a list of different possible means to an end, and not ends in themselves. It would be impossible (indeed foolish) to try to include all of them in a single lesson – let alone a 20 minute visit from an inspector. Outstanding teachers should remain focused on intended outcomes as the main consideration when planning, and at the same time be able to adapt their values to satisfy the needs of OFSTED. There are many paths to an outstanding lesson, and teacher must choose the correct blend to facilitate outstanding learning.

Perhaps the biggest crime during an OFSTED visit would be to fail to recognize an opening to include some of these elements. For example, If when discussing a subject such as child soldiers, it would be a missed opportunity if no overt reference to spiritual, moral, social and cultural aspects were included.

 The Senior Leadership team intend to follow up a number of the stated elements as part of our overall school development plan. For instance, the emphasis on progression has led us to look closely at assessment procedures as a whole school issue. This is has thrown up discussion about different methods of feedback, questioning skills, and so on.

The narrow criteria based observations made by OFSTED  is certainly not the be all and end all driving our development plan, but it is definitely the case that the new inspection framework has given us a clear direction, and has focused teachers to closely examine their own classroom practice, reflect on it, and attempt to refine it.

A number of the elements in my chart have stimulated serious reflection on what goes on in my own classroom. The drive towards more independent learning has always been a priority for me, but I must confess that I do struggle at times to reduce ‘teacher talk’ time. Interestingly, some of the priorities stressed by OFSTED do not always match up with my students’ perceptions of outstanding lessons, and this is a case in point. The feedback they have given me has suggested that they enjoy my lengthy narratives, and regard this as a valuable aspect of their learning! It is quite illuminating to ask students to write their own ‘brilliant learning laws’, and see how they compare with OFSTED. Worth a try – you may be surprised!

I have recently given more consideration to ‘primacy’ –  those essential first few moments in a lesson that harness the attention and engage students. The first few minutes are so important – some writers even suggest as short a time period as the first six seconds! In the context of OFSTED, the idea is to give the observer every opportunity to start thinking of an outstanding rating before you have even opened your mouth.

One thing I will not allow OFSTED to change is my attitude towards risk in my classroom. Many outstanding teachers get no further than a good rating because they decide not to take a risk when being observed. The best learning always takes place at the very edge of the comfort zone, and to explore this fertile area, the teacher sometimes has to take a chance. Be it a new resource, a new approach, or a change to the established routine – outstanding practitioners never shy away from the element of risk that comes along with this.

In conclusion, no OFSTED inspection framework has lasted very long before being modified to accommodate the next popular trend or fashion. Therefore we should take from the present one what we can to help drive our most important responsibility which is providing great learning opportunities for our students.

 Postscript: I recently came across this image courtesy of @Team Tait. I particularly liked the ‘journey’ theme, and look forward to customizing this for my own school.

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About devongeography

Head of Geography and Assistant Vice Principal at South Molton Community College, North Devon. Exeter Chiefs supporter!
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