Singing Without Hope on the Boundary

OFSTED can bend reality
OFSTED. The acronym is enough to strike fear into even the most cynical and hardened of teacher's hearts. After all they are inspecting you and your ability to teach. If you don't tickle their fancy then you might find yourself slowly pushed out. Even if you don't agree with them or how they do their job and what they look at they can't be ignored, else you lose your job. As such OFSTED have the ability to bend reality to their whims.

I'm an NQT and part of the gig as an NQT is to be observed by your mentor and occasionally throughout the year by a member of senior management. My time is now and unfortunately for me this coincides with the Key Stage Three assessments for this term. What this means is for a few lessons the pupils in Year's 7-9 spend three-four lessons rehearsing performances that include the techniques or the conventions of the genre they've learned about in the previous half-term before performing it to their class. Now, upon learning about this one would assume that the Senior Teacher would either say "well this won't really show me what I want to see from your teaching so I'll postpone until you're teaching the pupils new things again" or "well I know you're involved in the assessment process so I will observe your ability to manage a classroom and assess the pupils." Common sense surely? Unfortunately common sense takes flight in the face of the omnipotent OFSTED.

For my observation I have been charged with producing an interesting and entertaining lesson which would score highly on the OFSTED standards (which means amazing starter activities, a learning objective on the board, clear progression throughout the lesson, students that are enthused and comfortable throughout along with a load of other things) as well as, and this is the kicker, not impacting on the rehearsal time for the assessments.

WHAT? This clearly makes no sense.

There are a few issues with this. Firstly the OFSTED criteria for every lesson you teach are way to prescriptive, although that's a post for another day. Secondly my head of department has created a system which has been approved by the school and seems to get results. That system means the first half-term and a bit of any given term is concerned with delivering the topic and the necessary skills to the pupils before the rest of the term is used for pupils to apply, in a more independent way, the skills learned. It's an okay system and it works. This means that at this time of the term the teacher takes on a backseat role in the lessons as pupils are allowed to experiment and create performances while he or she observes and assesses the pupils. So why do I have to change the method of delivery for this particular lesson because I am being observed? The answer to this question is OFSTED.

When I first raised reservations about an observation at this time of year I noted that because we were in the middle of the assessment process the lesson would not contain the particular things an observer of my teaching might like to see. I was told that a discussion had occurred between my Head of Department and the member of Senior Management about this but that I would have to change what I was doing and teach a "bells and whistles" lesson that would have OFSTED creaming themselves because OFSTED can visit at any time. The argument being that because OFSTED can visit at any time I should be prepared to be observed at any time. Flawless logic, you would think, until you begin to consider what is actually meant by this.

The Drama department in my school has a system that is effective and has worked since before I joined. If, however, OFSTED were suddenly to spring a visit on us during the assessment period we would all have to stop what we were doing and teach completely different lessons. We'd have to cram as many gimmicks in as possible and the assessment work would have to be forgotten because having one of those rehearsal lessons would not score you very high. How does this make sense? If the rehearsal process is part of what we do in the Drama department then changing it just because OFSTED turn up is surely dishonest. Why should how we teach all year round suddenly change just because HM inspectors turn up wanting to be entertained? Surely it is better for them to see what we actually do day in and day out. We have lesson plans and schemes of work to show them what learning has been taking place if they want to see it. Why should we then totally alter how we deliver lessons?

The problem is that the OFSTED criteria would not allow for us to pass with anything more than a satisfactory should they see one of the rehearsal lessons even though the lesson is a valid part of the way we deliver Drama. Instead we have to lie. We have to tell OFSTED what they want to hear. This cannot be right. How can OFSTED get a real picture of what is going on in the world of education when the schools are forced to change what they actually do in order to get a good mark? Something is desperately wrong when a valid method of teaching is considered to be inferior to a one off "bells and whistles" lesson that most pupils will forget weeks later and have little or no impact on their learning. For OFSTED it doesn't matter though, they obviously don't live in the real world and have the power to bend reality to their whims.

The worst thing about this is that teachers still need to be validated OFSTED and will do what they need to do to jump through their hoops. Who benefits? Surely not the kids, that is for certain.


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