My interest in leadership spans the private sector, sport and education. The similarities and idiosyncrasies are fascinating. Nowhere is this more true than in the field of education.
I’m a vice chair of Governors at a special school, and recently went through my first Ofsted inspection. Ofsted is the body that regulates schools in England. For many who work in education, its two day inspections are feared, loathed some might say. Ofsted inspects schools in four key areas, and provides a judgement in each area, along with an overall judgement. Thus each school is graded as being one of the following:
- Requires Improvement
The school I’m involved with was judged to be requiring improvement. I think it was a fair judgement, even though there is evidently a lot of good and outstanding practice within the school.
Quality of teaching is one of the key areas for Ofsted to inspect. Lessons are observed for 20 minutes or so, a grade is given, and, until now at least, the teacher is then told the grade he or she has achieved. It’s clearly great if your lesson is regarded as being good or outstanding, but I’d imagine it is deeply upsetting if you don’t receive such a positive outcome.
Our school is now working hard to address the specific issues raised by Ofsted. Since the inspection, though, there has been a quiet revolution at Ofsted. Its head of schools, Mike Cladingbowl, now says that lessons should not be graded, and teachers certainly should not feel that their lesson has been judged during the 20 minute observation. Many involved in education have welcomed this. Read David Didau for example. Others, like James Bowkett, are less impressed.
I’m not a teacher, so the debate started me thinking about how we give and receive feedback in other walks of life. I’ve led teams in a number of companies and organisations in both the private and voluntary sector, and I’ve never been judged as ‘outstanding’, or, happily, as ‘inadequate’. I guess those judgements have been made in different ways, though. Working in PR for example, my clients have from time to time been kind enough to describe work as brilliant or outstanding. A few have told me I’m rubbish, too. The praise was lovely, but I set myself high standards, so it’s what I was aiming for.
Sometimes, when I was told I was, to all effects, inadequate. I sulked. Sometimes, as is the way with PR companies, I and my colleagues would whip ourselves into a frenzy of indignation and end up united in agreement that it was the stupid client’s fault. Every now and again, though, I might accept that the criticism had at least a kernel of truth.
Feedback should be truthful, regardless of the profession. But we have to recognise that people receive feedback in different ways. Some might respond to a ‘requires improvement’ judgement with a renewed sense of fire in their belly. Others might go on the defensive and blame everyone but themselves.
What we all have to consider is how to give and deliver feedback in a manner which improves performance, because that’s what we’re interested in, whether we’re a school, a PR firm, or a football team. I suspect this is where Ofsted needs to do more work, too.
I don’t think it is fair to deny outstanding teachers the praise they deserve. Presumably everyone who goes into teaching wants to deliver outstanding lessons and achieve outstanding outcomes. There may be some who don’t, and I’m all in favour of a regulatory system that supports schools in the identification of consistently under achieving teachers who refuse to evaluate their own performance. But few of us go through life without the occasional wobble. We can’t always be great at what we do. What’s crucial is the help we receive when we’re off form.
Final point. The latest public data from Ofsted reveals the following verdict on the quality of teaching in England’s schools. 55% of it is good. 10% is outstanding. 30% requires improvement, and 5% is inadequate.
I don’t claim to know whether Ofsted is doing a good job. I know plenty of experienced and sensible people who hate it. But I’m sure we do need a regulator focussed on ensuring our children are given the best possible start in life. I’d love to hear from you. Should Ofsted continue to grade individual lessons or apply an overall grade based on a series of observations? And outside the education sector, do you think performance would improve if your company used a system of Ofsted style grades to judge individual performance?