For whom do we toil?

When I was a young(er) teacher, I learnt a few tricks of observations.

As an NQT, I knew that my mentor wanted to see a calm environment; she saw it as an indicator of the all-important behaviour management. And so I obliged.

In later years I had a Head of Year for whom I always included something that engendered good engagement – all the better if it was on coloured paper. Another subject leader rated talk partners, and so they always appeared in lessons in which I was observed.

When marking became the thing, I’d always ensure that I grouped children in my observed lessons according the work I’d marked the night before. Rarely did I do it at any other time, but it ticked the box.

And then it was progress in the lesson. So every observed lesson, I ensured that I asked children to do something at the start of the lesson (often giving them rather too little time or guidance), before teaching them some new skill and asking them to try the task again, with evident improvement clear for the observer to see.

A cynic might suggest that these things didn’t help children make progress, but rather than created the illusion of progress for the observer.

And now it’s progress over time. But I’m a cynic.

The latest craze seems to be for hot and cold tasks and the like. Now I’m sure there are many arguments for this approach in some cases, but it seems that the main reason put forward is for its ability to “demonstrate progress over time”.

It’s the drawn out version of my “progress in a lesson” trick, to show progress over a period of days or weeks. It offers the evidence on  a plate to our external judges; it stops them from ‘catching us out’ on that tickbox in the Ofsted framework.

But frankly, if an inspector can’t see progress over time by looking in books, then either there is something very wrong with the books.. or the inspector!

Progress over time is when children go from using simple multiplication facts to being able to use the standard written method.

Progress over time is children who use repetitive sentence structures in September, are showing more variety by January.

Progress over time is a well-planned curriculum that builds on prior learning and extends pupils’ experiences.

We shouldn’t be finding ways of making progress over time evident; we need to be finding ways to make progress over time happen. The evidence will come. And if that means dragging the inspector to see it, then so be it.


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6 thoughts on “For whom do we toil?

  1. mmiweb 9 January 2016 at 4:01 pm Reply


    I have always been a fan of the pro-active when “an inspector calls” and having now been involved in inspections in primary, secondary, and HE level and as a teacher, SLT member and chair of governors. So, I absolutely agree that we should not let the inspector just sit in the corner and clipboard away but ask them questions, get them to ask questions and force stuff in front of them. I am also quite proud of being involved in two appeals of inspection reports and in both cases getting things changed when the inspectors pointedly got it wrong – power to the people!

  2. cazzypot2013 9 January 2016 at 5:32 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  3. joiningthedebate 9 January 2016 at 8:49 pm Reply

    It is a great shame that we all feel the need to give the observer the thing they happen to be looking for even if it is some mad idea (and who can blame any of us). The problem comes when you don’t know what your observer is looking for. My particular problem at the moment is that what my observer is looking for seems to change frequently. Although what she is looking for has a consistent approach … in that it is the opposite of whatever I am doing in any particular lesson. I address one thing, and something else gets criticised and so on. She has been on an Ofsted course recently but is yet to convey things to staff. Who knows what the next change of emphasis is going to be! At the moment, for my next observation I may as well just stand in front of the class and read out the new framework and not bother teaching anything.

  4. nictaewa 9 January 2016 at 10:02 pm Reply

    This makes me glad to be in an environment where observations are not mandated. I invite colleagues into the class to help with puzzles of practice (we are open space & can be seen anyway) & I task them with a particular purpose to help my own professional development.

  5. The Quirky Teacher 10 January 2016 at 10:18 am Reply

    We are under constant scrutiny and it makes me paranoid at times. Guilty as charge on the hot and cold task.

  6. Abigail Greig 11 January 2016 at 3:33 pm Reply

    Also makes a difference if you are using the hot and cold tasks not to show adults what progress the children have made, but for the children to reflect on their learning.

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