Nurture – week 2

After two terms with three staff down, the idea was that coming back in January would be just that little bit easier for me as I had appointed a full team of staff. How wrong can one be?

This week we have had visits from both the DFE and Ofsted.

I am not going to write about their visits per se as a lot of it is confidential but as a HOF it is quite an interesting process to reflect on.

It felt as though there was quite a significant juxtaposition during the process. Physically I was a mess – I was sick both mornings and I really couldn’t feel my legs Tuesday morning when I knew they were coming for me. Yet my state of mind was calm – I was ready, I was armed.

My love for the school and a lot of the people in it, including the students, meant that I was determined to be as prepared as I possibly could for any questions I was to face despite nerves.

I was called into two meetings and, in the first, I vividly remember interrupting the lead inspector and talking over him on two occasions as I listed what my faculty were doing to raise attainment and the impact it had already had. I was adamant he was going to listen to me and I was going to throw everything that I possibly could at him. I made notes so I did not leave anything out and, I believe, he came out feeling satisfied with me and my faculty.

The second meeting was a one on one meeting about marking. This felt more like a conversation and whilst I could confidently talk her through our processes, there were points for development and I needed to listen. The advice given was good. It didn’t feel that she was there to catch me out, as Ofsted can so often be presented as doing, but rather to see where we were with our marking and moderation processes and where else it could be taken in the future. I enjoyed our meeting although I wish I had had the time to sit down with her longer.

And then there was this pull between ensuring that I was ready and that the staff in my faculty were ready and that they were ok and calm. Yet when you know so much of an inspection is focused on teaching and learning, it would be unnatural not to feel worried. The faculty were brilliant though and cracked on with planning solid lessons with many in school until late on in the night.

However, as I reflect upon how Ofsted impacts upon a Middle Level Leader, I have come to realise that it isn’t the leadership part of the inspection or the job that concerns me the most, it is in fact the teaching. It doesn’t just concern me, it upsets me and makes me very sad about what our education system has become.

I remember the day when you could rock up to your classroom and you could teach freely – when you could be creative, have fun and laugh in the classroom. You could do projects that would run over several lessons. You had time to develop and deliver a curriculum that was creative, engaging and where students made progress because they enjoyed what they were doing.

Of course you can still smile and look as though you are enjoying teaching now BUT only if you are asking the right questions, differentiated all resources, modelled, marked all books and ensured the students have responded to feedback, used AFL and have all students on target or at least demonstrate that All students are making rapid progress. Of course, this all has to be demonstrated in 20 minutes as well. It is an exhausting ask and feels so utterly constraining and demoralising. It has made me realise that there is no creativity in planning lessons any more which, for me, used to be the fun part of the job because what has to be demonstrated with a lesson means you are left with very little time for anything else.

A year 8 student told me this week how happy he was he had me now because he was doing far more work than he had done with his previous teacher and he really felt he was making progress. I responded by telling him I was really keen to get everyone in the class a level 6 and now as I am writing this, I am realising how sad that truly is. What I really should want to know as his teacher is – is he happy? Does he enjoy English? Does he laugh? Is he inspired to read or write? Which author inspires him the most? When was the last time he wrote a creative piece for himself without worrying about sentence structure and punctuation? Instead, both of us, are guilty of falling into the trap of caring only about meeting government targets and demonstrating progress.

And yet- is it possible to deviate from such a system? Come Monday we will be back to learning walks, book scrutinies, success criteria, AFL and targets for improvement. I will teach my classes with assessments and progress in mind and I will lead the faculty with a determined focus on ensuring year 11 get as close to their target as they can. And then it leads me to reflect and ask – how many of you have planned tasks for the students in your class over the last week or so that has only one outcome – enjoyment and a love for your subject? No progress measures, no assessment, no targets for improvement. Pure, unadulterated enjoyment and love of a subject.

So, I guess, in conclusion, what Ofsted has taught me the most this week is that I wish I was the teacher I once was – the one who was most interested in developing the child rather than the target they are assigned.

And with that I am going to go and read a book for pleasure… something I haven’t done for myself for a long time.

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