Thursday 8 March 2012

Ofsted: a Survival Guide for NQTs

Recently my Principal received "The Phonecall". We were told OFSTED would arrive in 48 hours. This is a scary thing for any teacher to hear, let alone an NQT.

I was anxious but also quite excited. It might not surprise some of you to know that I always enjoyed exams at school. I like getting the opportunity to prove how amazing I am. Of course, in school I was amazing at pretty much everything (except not being hated for being so arrogant), whereas now the only things I'm amazing at are accessorising to match my lesson plan, cube-rooting numbers in my head, and memorising my students' birthdays to freak them out*.

My academy was aiming for "Outstanding" so I felt like I was under a lot of pressure. I am *not* an Oustanding teacher. It pains me to admit that I'm not the best at something. I don't like it. But I have to accept that being a good teacher comes with experience, and very few teachers are Outstanding in their NQT. I don't like accepting this.

I am a very calm and laid back person , so I didn't worry about the inspection until the day before. Then I realised just how much preparation is needed for OFSTED. I had to produce:
-A lesson plan for all of my lessons that day.
-A compilation of data on each class.
-A seating plan for each class.
-A set of expertly marked exercise books for each class.
 I also had to tidy up my classroom and add to my displays.

This took bare a long time (do you find that students' language starts to invade your own?). I left school at 6:30pm and I can say with some certainty I was the earliest non-parent to leave. Some of my colleagues were there until 10pm. I got home and had dinner and then started working again. I worked until 9pm and then, being the procrastinator that I am, I thought, I'll do the rest tomorrow. I rarely stay awake past 9pm (even on weekends) so my eyes were starting to droop. I set my alarm for 3am and went to sleep. In the morning I worked for 3 hours, ran in and out of the shower like an instant carwash, and left for school at 6:30am. I was at school by 7am, and did another 1.5hours' work. It was then, 15 minutes before the first bell, that I was told I would be observed during period 1. Instatly relief washed over me: it felt so good to know. At that point, by the way, I still hadn't written my lesson plans for period 3 and 4 (I was free period 2). I didn't bother writing them in the end, because lightning doesn't strike twice, right?

So yeah, the observation. Well it was fine. My students behaved impeccably, even before the inspector arrived (they observed the second half). They were desperate to impress, more so than me I think!

I went and got feedback at the end of the day. The inspector told me lots of positive things:
-My strength is that I never tell kids how to do something or what the answer is, I question them until they can tell me.
-I have good relationships with students: they like me and there is an upbeat atmosphere in my classroom.
-I assessed regularly.

They also told me some things that could have been better, which were quite specific to the lesson but I'll try and tell you them without being too specific:
-After getting my pupils to traffic light and seeing lots of greens, I still got them to do another question similar to the one they'd just done. This was pointless because they already said they could do it. (I privately disagree with this to be honest. In maths you can't do something once and expect to be able to remember it forever. Plus my pupils are always over-confident in their self-assessments).
-When one student still didn't get it near the end, I should have gone back to the original long explanation from the start with the whole class, rather than explaining the method quickly again for him.

So there you go. The negatives weren't anything like, "there's no evidence of differentiation in your lesson plan" or "your learning objective should have included PLTS", it was very focused on moments in the lesson where I made a decision that was possibly not the right one. I think this is an extremely fair way of observing. It was very focused on the progress of the students, not on stupid gimmicks. I didn't do any group work, but who cares? There wasn't a moment in the lesson that would have benefitted from it. I think they focused on "hinge points" in the lesson, the bit where the lesson changes direction based on assessment. It's how you handle these hinges that's important.

Here are my top tips for surviving OFSTED:
- Make a seating plan (annotated with SEN, G&T, EAL, etc) and print off your class data now so that if OFSTED call you have a few less things to worry about.
-Plan normal lessons that you will feel comfortable delivering. Don't be flashy, that's not what they're looking for.
-Think about the hinge points in your lesson and how you're going to handle them. Think: what if they all get it/none of them gets it/half get it etc.
-Put a set of well-marked books near the place they're going to sit. I had some (about 5) full-up books from a good class that I deliberately put near an empty desk. I removed the books that were messy or marked badly. I noticed afterwards that the pile was in a different order so they must have been looked at. If your class is using their books the inspector can't really examine them much.
-I don't know if this is a good tip but when I got my class to traffic light I told them to turn around and show "our visitor" their colour too. I thought this would be helpful for their observation and I think they appreciated it but who knows.
-Brief your class beforehand. Mine were amazing, they really tried to look engaged and clever. One pupil called me over and whispered "Miss, he's standing behind me, ask me a really good question". Isn't that great?

Obviously the main thing is not to panic, but I think that's a useless bit of advice because you're either born a panicker or a non-panicker (like me). Remember there is no failure, only feedback. Even if you get rated "inadequate" (hate that word), you will get lots of useful feedback from it.

By the way, I was rated Satisfactory with Good features. That's an improvement on my last observation, so I'm happy. Also, it looks good because the inspectors will see that the school has rated me Satisfactory, so by beating that score, I validate the school's observation records. It's like moderating coursework: if the examiner thinks you've marked a piece of coursework too low, they raise all of your class's marks. So don't worry about getting Outstanding, just try to beat the score you have on record.

Good luck to anyone facing OFSTED this term. I found it a very positive experience overall, and I'm not just saying that.

Emma x x x

*I used to do this when I was at school. I still remember most of my form group's birthdays, or at least their star signs.

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