Teacher Voice – What are you saying? (submitted via @StarterforFive)

In the classroom, make sure you say what you mean & mean what you say – being consistent is at the heart of what we do. Less is often more and can offer the children clarity.

In a staff meeting, contribute because you have something worth saying – the loudest or most frequently heard voices are not always saying useful things!

In the staffroom, relax, chat but each staffroom is different – avoid existing internal politics (if you can and want to) – listen a lot at first and establish relationships.

In corridors, talk copying, trim paper & cut out letters but turn the volume down sometimes or go somewhere else  – overheard chats can be misunderstood esp by chd or parents!

In the pub, buy a round, hum that song (later it’ll be karaoke) or munch your way through the crisps … but what is said in the pub doesn’t always stay in the pub!

Assessment Journeys

Via @tim_jumpclarke


A fascinating year: life after levels

There was a lot of debate both online and in ‘face to face’ life during the summer term 2014 about the removal of National Curriculum levels. Schools seemed to be deciding either to buy into a new tracking system or to remain with levels for one more year to wait and see what happened. At this time I took Michael Tidd’s (@MichaelT1979) Key Objectives (https://michaelt1979.wordpress.com/freeresources/) and created a very basic Excel spreadsheet (although Michael made it look far more professional). The aim was to allow my Y1 teacher to trail assessing against objectives she was actually teaching, but still to give myself as headteacher some data which I could share with Governors, the LA and Ofsted. (Ofsted duly visited in May and seemed happy with the system, but mainly I think because of the progress clearly evident in the books).

This year…

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Is marking the enemy of feedback?

Ramblings of a Teacher

I’ve written before about the error of thinking of marking and feedback as synonymous. Too often the focus is on the former – perhaps because it’s far easier to measure than the latter.

I’ve written too, about all the hidden feedback that goes on in classrooms. But increasingly I’m coming to think that the focus on marking is not only struggling to have impact; I think it might actually be hindering good feedback.

I think it’s always worth remembering some key overlooked points about feedback from the Sutton Trust/EEF toolkit. The first appears in the “What should I consider?” box on the website, where it states that to be effective, feedback should:

be given sparingly so that it is meaningful

I think it’s important to contrast that with the many policies that require feedback for pupils on every piece of work.

The second, I think, is more significant, and…

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This is not what I intended to write.

The inane ramblings of one school governor

This is not what I intended to write.


At the start of this week everything was bumbling along. Why then by the end of the week do I feel like I’ve run a marathon carrying an elephant?

The reason we volunteer is because we care about the quality of education our children receive. Many of us start as parent governors, nosy about what’s going on with our children. Most of us stay to try and make a difference.

I’m so long in the tooth I even remember life before Ofsted, then the cupboard rummagers, the lesson scrutinisers and what we have now.

I firmly believe schools and governing bodies should be accountable; accountable to children, parents and Ofsted among others. I know that’s controversial but I’ve seen too many schools with a sleeping governing body where the world turns and they don’t notice.

I have a chat with the…

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The Head Teacher Inspector Calls

Both Nick Hague (@educationbear) and Mary Isherwood (@Mishwood1), were delighted to have had the opportunity to meet with Ofsted’s National Director, Sean Harford (@HarfordSean), alongside a small number of other colleagues, many of whom have already blogged about the meeting held on Monday, 18th May 2015:

Debra – @debrakidd

Tim – @imagineinquiry

Cherryl – @cherrylkd

Tim – @theprimaryhead

Brian – @OldPrimaryhead1

Emma – @emmaannhardy

Jane – @HeyMissSmith

We have chosen to explore further an area which was discussed on the day and as heads who have both trained as inspectors, an aspect pertinent to us both – that of serving practitioners as inspectors.

This is not a new concept, in fact there have been serving head teacher and senior leader practitioners on teams for many years, but it is a concept which has gathered momentum over the last few years as the changes to the inspection framework / process have been developing:

  • The HMCI, Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested back in March 2002 when speaking to the ASCL conference “one way you can lead the system is to be more involved in inspection”, adding, “Too few heads become inspectors”.
  • Mike Cladingbowl who was at the time National Director for Ofsted, speaking to Manchester senior leaders and governors in February 2014 also spoke about the notion of ‘An inspector in every school’  Mary alluded to this in her blog ‘To grade or not to grade – that is the question’ http://wp.me/p4cGdC-w
  • It was also raised during discussion at our meeting by Sean Harford in the context of giving credibility to inspections

If the premise is that the principle of having head teachers as inspectors is a good one, then what is the issue? Why is it worthy of debate and further discussion?

For us, including those who met with Sean Harford and we are sure for many of you reading this, there seems to be a number of questions / potential issues…….

Here are our thoughts…

Do you need to be in an outstanding school to be an outstanding head?

MI: No in my opinion in the sense that it is a very shallow and potentially misrepresentative part of the criteria. There are many outstanding leaders who are not in outstanding schools. Equally, it does not always follow if you have joined an already outstanding school that you are an outstanding head teacher.

NH: I would agree with this. The notion of outstanding is one which has been open to much debate and I would also say ridicule and misuse. It is often used by politicians and others to highlight the supposed best or as the magic ‘Golden Ticket’ which opens a range of doors. We have too often simply defined leadership by a single word or person rather than a defining collaborative act. Let’s look beyond the narrow confines of the word so that access to, and support for, the many highly effective leaders and leadership teams is enabled for all – leadership not label!


Amount of time contracted


MI: This is an area that I raised at our meeting with Sean. There is an expectation for serving practitioners to contract to Ofsted for a minimum of 15 inspection days per year. On top of this there is 5 days mandatory face to face training, online training units particularly as areas of inspection are updated and of course time needed for preparation for inspections. Whilst I whole heartedly agree with Sean as he said when we met that it is necessary to be engaged in regular inspections in order to ensure skills are maintained and developed, for me, the current requirement is too great on top of all of the other demands both in and out of my own school. It is the reason I have made the difficult decision that whilst succeeding in the assessment process to be an Ofsted inspector I have withdrawn from contracting with Ofsted.

NH: This is a key issue for serving practitioners. The minimum of 15 days may not sound a lot when spread over an academic year but there are tasks to complete prior to any inspection (as there should be) as well as additional training days and update reading. Sean has always been very clear about the importance of having serving practitioners as members of inspection teams and now, more than ever, this is crucial to the future credibility of Ofsted and inspections. However, he did state at the meeting that he would be keeping the issue of contracted time under review once the new framework has been embedded and could be reviewed.

MI: This is true. Sean did encourage me to see how it went for two terms and then discuss further, particularly in the context as he said of there being a shortage of special school heads as inspectors. I would be concerned as a professional however about contracting and then ‘withdrawing’ mid-contract so I would welcome a review of minimum requirements which enabled serving heads like me to keep that balance. Also build in flexibility at particular pressure times within a school life e.g. changes to leadership teams or like we are – moving to a new school building next year – things that put significant pressure on Head teachers meaning they may need to temporarily reduce their external commitments.


Unintended consequences

MI: The theme of unintended consequences was raised in the meeting in a range of ways. My reference to unintended consequences is the Head teacher inspector who is so busy doing inspections that they ‘take their eye of the ball’ and standards decline in their own school as a consequence.

NH: This has happened and will be a concern to any senior leader embarking upon work with Ofsted. However, it is to be hoped that it would be seen and applied in context. Your school must and should come first!

Being a Headteacher versus an inspector: a very different role


MI: Quite rightly the notion that a head teacher should not expect or impose ‘their way of doing things’ on a school they are inspecting was raised during our meeting. The CfBT training strongly emphasised that whilst the knowledge and experience of being a head teacher is clearly strength, the role of an inspector for example observing teaching in a school they are inspecting is very different from that in their own. I feel this will continue to be an essential element of ongoing training for serving practitioner inspectors

NH: For me it is about the need to leave your luggage at the door! As you say Mary, the knowledge and skills of leadership clearly contribute to your effectiveness as an inspector but you are not judging any particular method or simply honing in on one aspect of available information. It is also a matter of exercising professional control if your thoughts stray from the brief!



Has to be someone working in phase or not?

MI: This is an area of contention and again was raised during our discussion. It is a common concern of mine and others that inspectors of special schools do not have the background knowledge and expertise to be able to make informed judgements. The same could be said of secondary trained inspectors inspecting primary schools. An essential ingredient of a team MUST be someone from that phase / background in my opinion. Within a team though, with the right training – maybe someone outside that phase could add value to professional discussions? Possibly.

NH: Mmm… in an ideal world! I do think that the majority of inspectors on any given team should have skills and experiences drawn from the phase they are inspecting. This adds credibility to the process and outcome. However, I am also supportive of the argument that all colleagues can add to any professional discussion – if not, then are we saying that primary, secondary, special are totally different?

Does an inspector have to be a senior leader or should others in school train as inspectors?

MI: Another area of contention – although not sure if any areas are not contentious actually! I feel again there is a value to extending the opportunities to train as inspectors to middle leadership in schools. The key thing in this for me, as currently with Head teacher / senior leaders, is the rigour of the application process – selecting the right people who are applying to be inspectors for the right reasons and then ensuring they get high quality training and there is ongoing rigorous quality assurance. If all of those things are in place then why not?

NH: Some colleagues I have met who are also serving head teachers, really shouldn’t be inspecting. It is about the right leader for the right job. All inspectors should have experience of some aspect of whole school leadership – whether that be at subject, phase or a higher level. The key message should be about the ability to grasp issues on a whole school level and interpret them without fear or favour – this is not solely within the remit of head teachers.

Initial training / CPD and Quality assurance for inspectors

NH: Sean was very clear on the reasons behind Ofsted ‘bringing the team’ back in house but training and quality assurance are potentially still variable moving forward. I am hopeful that the changes made to date will impact positively upon the whole process of inspection. However, I firmly believe that the ongoing training needs to be rigorous and inspectors should be open to the highest degree of professional challenge – this has often been held up as the case but has not always materialised in practice. Further, quality assurance methods should be part of the inspection process far more regularly than at present. Teams should be more frequently quality assured as they are inspecting so that feedback is immediate and developmental. I’ve commented on training and QA in a previous post – https://educationbear.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/ofsted-2-retraining-the-dementors/

MI: I quite agree. The contracting between schools and inspectors must include the provision of high quality initial training and ongoing by Ofsted. The onus is on inspectors to fully engage in the training provided to ensure they are up to date. Quality assurance is imperative and is for me is one of the pillars on which Ofsted will stand or fall by – what gives it credibility. The framework is there for everyone and is clear; however with the professional judgement that comes alongside it there is also professional fallibility. The QA process needs to make sure schools do not fall fowl of that as sadly has happened in the past.


To conclude:


MI: Sean Harford and his colleagues continue to show the openness for dialogue and collaboration with those of us working ‘at the chalk face’ as changes to the inspection framework and process are developed and established. If the inspection process is truly to be a shared experience between schools and the inspectorate then I feel we have a responsibility to equally engage in the dialogue. We share the same end goal which is to improve outcomes for all of the children and young people we work with after all.

NH: We cannot change the past or the sometimes unprofessional and harrowing inspections some colleagues have experienced. To move forward, however difficult, it must be a collaboration between schools and Ofsted. School leaders should and must deliver a strong message about their own school and their context. Inspection teams must fully understand the framework without losing sight of their professional judgement when applying it.

#primedchat Special with Nick Gibb, Education Minister 19/11 at 8pm

@primedchat welcomes Nick Gibb, Education Minister to a #primedchat Special on 19th November from 8pm-8.30pm.

Mr Gibb is particularly interested in Reading, Phonics and Maths.

So the question next week will be … What are the best ways of raising standards in Reading (esp Phonics) & Maths?

Please join us if you can and share your thoughts and comments with Mr Gibb.


Just a part of me … for a short time anyway

As I prepare to hand over the baton to a permanent Head of Service (I was only ever the ‘Interim Bod’), I thought it might be worth sharing a post of my ‘A day in the life of … ‘ article. Although only part of what I do, I hope it provides a useful insight. The original was published in SEN LEADER (April 2014).

“It doesn’t start when the alarm goes off at 6am – before then my mind is already racing with thoughts of the day ahead or projects on the go. I can’t remember the last time that the alarm actually woke me up! I still have to force myself to have breakfast but I play out the day to come in my head as the porridge in the pan reaches a suitably paste-like consistency – a banana and some honey and it’s done!

I live and work in South London at the moment but the day’s journey can take me far and wide across a number of London Boroughs. If heading to the office, it’s the Northern Line. But then it’s a modern, functional space merely as a base not the central focus of the job. Although a Consultant Headteacher, I’m also working as Interim Head of Service for Lambeth’s Visual Impairment and Hearing Support Services. The two services operate on an outreach basis serving the children and young people of Lambeth.

The first thing to say is that no two days are the same. I know people often say this but it’s true. The nature of the work and the service means that flexibility is central to diary planning and workload!

When my day begins in the office, it often starts with checking emails and trying to respond to as many as possible. It still surprises me as to how many companies and agencies will send you emails when all they’ve heard is that your work has something to do with SEN – they don’t seem interested in the work you do but your involved in SEN so you are bound to be interested, right? Wrong! So, there’s often stuff to ignore before you get to the nitty gritty.

A major part of the job is keeping the caseload under review. Such a wide and varied caseload requires highly effective systems to be in place so that information is readily available without having to undertake a search of too many documents. It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the caseload for a service like ours as referrals come through a range of sources such as the Newborn Screening programme. Therefore, it is important that efficient and transparent systems are in place to enable an effective match between professional and child. On occasion, SEN children have been assessed with a range of needs but their actual prevailing need isn’t sufficiently acknowledged. This can lead to an incorrect placement within a setting which is ultimately unable to support their development in full.

As I’m currently looking at combining the two services together to form a sensory support service, most days I’m involved in the search for evidence of good practice alongside research to support it. I’d always believed that there was a higher level of agreement in the ‘SEN World’ but that’s not the case so I tread carefully. Research is some thing that’s not fully embraced by all but I believe that it is it part of the key to progress and development of learning and services – especially within the world of special needs!

Lunch doesn’t usually exist (or is quick and simple) as I’m often travelling between sessions in schools or meetings or just forget. As a result, the mornings and afternoon merge seamlessly into one expanse of time – at least that’s the way it looks at 8am then I look again and it’s already late afternoon! But whether morning or afternoon, the work is varied and stimulating and often leaves you with a real sense of achieving something.

Recently, it’s been lesson observations in schools and other settings. This is involvement in the core work of the service – my professional colleagues putting the ‘meat on the bones’. I have a great passion for this part of the job – watching, listening, supporting and enjoying as learning grows and develops. The skilled practitioner crafting learning to enable children and young people with significant needs to make progress academically but more importantly as individuals. Also working alongside colleagues engaging in development dialogue to reinforce professional goals and aspirations.

It’s rare for some part of my day (and definitely my week), not to be focused on work with the local authority. They are currently working through a protracted review of SEN services and my work contributes to this. Surprisingly, this takes many forms and welcome this variety. Alongside other SEN leaders, a meeting with the borough’s SENCOs to discuss aspects of policy, direction, practice and individual children and settings. I often find that it is the opportunity to network informally which can resolve an issue quickly or open up a new line of support. This could then be followed by meetings with the borough’s senior SEN team or one of their consultants. Being involved in developing local policy within a national framework is sometimes frustrating as the pace isn’t always as fast as you would like (but not always need) to go. However, it’s like working in schools in that you get a real sense of the child or young person being at the centre of it all – a fact not always readily obvious when documents are produced!

One of the most fascinating parts of my day (even now) is when I am involved in meetings and discussions with NHS colleagues. This provides a fascinating insight into their work but more importantly enables me to make those vital links between and across services – both operationally and strategically. I am a great believer in multi-agency work but it is important to put the ‘groundwork’ in too. Don’t just engage with someone five minutes before you need something – communication, although time consuming, is key.

In education, as indeed across the public sector, there are many networks and procedures to access and be aware of. Whether interacting with social care, Team around the Child meetings, Learning Mentors, the art of writing a CAF or preparing for the new EHC plans, it does show how reliant we are on professional colleagues working together to achieve the same outcome.

I’m not really sure where my work days ends as we live in the 24/7 world with so many devices that I’m often checking emails or rereading documents at various times. I also volunteer as a coach and work with colleagues who are new to school leadership and management positions. I have to say I love this – engaging in professional conversation with a colleague in a situation where we are both learning. It’s also rare for me not to use Twitter (@educationbear) at some point. I’m a social media convert and have found that this is some of the very best professional development you can get. There are a number of SEN forums and colleagues on there and the level of support, advice and guidance is unparalleled in terms of quantity, quality and immediacy of response. There’s also a wealth of phase specific contacts and information too. I would advocate all to at least take a look!

One of the best parts of my job is working with children and young people to make a difference. Whatever my day is like though, I’ve never dealt well with the ‘oh they’re just SEN children’ mentality. My work is about having high expectations for all as we strive to make life and learning more inclusive. This is some thing I will always challenge in my own work and the interactions I have with other people and services. “