How Ofsted Grading Criteria Can Be Manipulated 2

How Ofsted Grading Criteria Can Be Manipulated

This is the second post in a series showing you exactly how Ofsted grading criteria can be manipulated in order to fit an inspector’s or other assessor’s personal agenda. Exam marking schemes have recently been described by a TES forums poster as, “so vague you can drive a coach and horses through,” and this comment appeared in a recent Ofqual report.

This is not the only framework that is too vague, virtually everything in teaching is tacit, subjective and relies on opinions as evidence, and the Ofsted grade descriptors are no exception. You could argue that this is the most important post in this series, because this is the one that is used to judge your teaching.

2. Grade Descriptors: the quality of teaching

Outstanding: Much of the teaching in the subject is outstanding and never less than consistently good. As a result, almost all pupils are making rapid and sustained progress.
Good: As a result of teaching that is mainly good, with examples of outstanding teaching, most pupils and groups of pupils, including disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs, are achieving well in the subject over time.
Satisfactory: Teaching results in most pupils, and groups of pupils, currently in the school making progress in the subject broadly in line with that made by pupils nationally with similar starting points. There is likely to be some good teaching and there are no endemic inadequacies across year groups or for particular groups of pupils.
Inadequate: As a result of weak teaching, pupils or groups of pupils currently in the school are making inadequate progress. Teaching over time fails to excite, enthuse, engage or motivate particular groups of pupils, including those who have special educational needs and/or disabilities.

So, the opening sentence for the criteria for outstanding, states that the teaching needs to be outstanding. This is repeated in the good category as well, where the teaching needs to be ‘mainly good’. I think this is the best example I’ve found yet of how vague these descriptors really are. Can you not give us more information?

There is also an emphasis on student achievement here: so that whether they fail or succeed is solely your responsibility and none of theirs. Your teaching ability is judged on their learning ability, and this creates the current situation where best practice from the best teachers is to spoon feed to the point of virtually doing the work for them.

Also the only mention of engagement and motivation appears in the inadequate category, so that if students show any signs of boredom, you’ve failed your lesson observation. It also says ‘over time’, which begs the question: how much time? Inspectors aren’t going to come back and observe you throughout the year, so how can that possibly be assessed?

Outstanding: All teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils.
Good: Teachers have high expectations of all pupils. 
Satisfactory: Teachers’ expectations enable most pupils to work hard and achieve satisfactorily and encourage them to make progress.
Inadequate: Teachers do not have sufficiently high expectations.

I don’t understand this section at all. The difference between good and outstanding is ‘teachers’ and ‘all teachers’ – so the judgement of your teaching is based on all the other teachers in your subject doing the same.

Secondly, expectations don’t actually enable anyone to do anything: there is much more to getting students to work hard than simply expecting it to happen. The requirement of high expectations is designed to stop teachers from discouraging low ability students. That’s it.

Outstanding: Drawing on excellent subject knowledge, teachers plan astutely and set challenging tasks based on systematic, accurate assessment of pupils’ prior skills, knowledge and understanding. They use well judged and often imaginative teaching strategies that, together with sharply focused and timely support and intervention, match individual needs accurately. Consequently, pupils learn exceptionally well. Teaching promotes pupils’ high levels of resilience, confidence and independence when they tackle challenging activities. Teachers systematically and effectively check pupils’ understanding throughout lessons, anticipating where they may need to intervene and doing so with notable impact on the quality of learning. Time is used very well and every opportunity is taken to successfully develop crucial skills, including being able to use their literacy and numeracy skills. Appropriate and regular homework contributes very well to pupils’ learning. Marking and constructive feedback from teachers and pupils are frequent and of a consistently high quality, leading to high levels of engagement and interest.

Good: Teachers use their well developed subject knowledge and their accurate assessment of pupils’ prior skills, knowledge and understanding to plan effectively and set challenging tasks. They use effective teaching strategies that, together with appropriately targeted support and intervention, match most pupils’ individual needs so that pupils learn well. Teaching generally promotes pupils’ resilience, confidence and independence when tackling challenging activities. Teachers regularly listen astutely to, carefully observe and skilfully question groups of pupils and individuals during lessons in order to reshape tasks and explanations to improve learning. Teaching consistently deepens pupils’ knowledge and understanding and teaches them a range of skills including literacy and numeracy skills. Appropriate and regular homework contributes well to pupils’ learning. Teachers assess pupils’ progress regularly and accurately and discuss assessments with them so that pupils know how well they have done and what they need to do to improve.

Satisfactory: Due attention is often given to the careful assessment of pupils’ learning but this is not always conducted rigorously enough and may result in some unnecessary repetition of work for pupils and tasks being planned and set that do not fully challenge. Teachers monitor pupils’ work during lessons, picking up any general misconceptions and adjust their plans accordingly to support learning. These adaptations are usually successful but occasionally are not timely or relevant and this slows learning for some pupils. Teaching strategies ensure that the individual needs of pupils are usually met. Teachers carefully deploy any available additional support and set appropriate homework and these contribute reasonably well to the quality of learning for pupils, including disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs. Pupils are informed about the progress they are making and how to improve further through marking and dialogue with adults that is usually timely and encouraging. This approach ensures that most pupils want to work hard and improve.

Inadequate: Learning activities are not sufficiently well matched to the needs of pupils so that they make inadequate progress. Pupils cannot communicate, read, write or use mathematics as well as they should, as appropriate, in the subject.

I’ve had to present the rest in one large chunk, as it’s so difficult to match similar sentences to make clear sections, such is the lack of clarity in these descriptors. The result is that it’s very difficult to look for a certain aspect of teaching and grade them: for example, there is no mention of subject knowledge in the satisfactory and inadequate criteria.

The descriptor for inadequate omits the most information, including differentiation and core skills, and not much else. Therefore, it doesn’t take much in the way of evidence to fail a teacher’s lesson observation.

Finally, interest and working hard form part of the outstanding and satisfactory descriptors respectively, which I consider to be something completely outside of the teacher’s control. You can promote hard work and be interesting, but that doesn’t mean that students are actually going to do that. Hence the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

If you want to read the full Ofsted grade descriptors they can be found at this link.

Do you disagree with anything else that appears in these grading criteria? Have you been given a satisfactory or inadequate for petty or far-fetched reasons? Please comment below.


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