The human side of Ofsted by Scott Hayden @bcotmedia

It was a privilege to be able to go to Ofsted HQ and speak about topics that the #ukfechat community had decided were most pertinent in FE. We started off by discussing lesson observations, after a week when I was personally observed twice - neither of the two times was my lesson plan referred to. Appropriately the word from Ofsted was that there is actually no prescribed format necessary to a ‘lesson plan’ so long as the lesson is planned and organised and that progress is clearly made by the learners. I felt the need for lesson plans within my initial training to be invaluable but like training wheels they eventually became redundant and stopped my progress, so this was reassuring. It seems that the scheme of work (still expected in an observation) will now need to evolve to encapsulate the planning of a project/ unit/ module rendering the lesson plan obsolete. The lesson observations by Ofsted are simply focused on the learning that is going on from the students' work - that was made clear.

Hearing a representative of Ofsted say that they are not concerned about individual grades for observed sessions was surprising. The need for a grade next to the name of each teacher then appears to be kept alive as a requirement by FE institutions to assess staff value, or does it serve some other purpose? We discussed the anxiety many educators feel about having a 1, 2, 3, or 4 over their heads and explained the importance of developmental continual feedback instead of what many teachers see as a stigmatising caste system.

Our responsibility and accountability as teachers to embed English and maths was discussed in relation to both the contractual requirements of colleges within teaching, learning, and assessment and the fact that it is now Government policy (which is always the backdrop to Ofsted). It was suggested that clearer guidelines are needed as to the stage Ofsted expect students to be at during any given time on a course. The fact that many employers don't know what ‘Functional skills’ qualifications are led into further discussion about the need for clarification as to how FE can get the support it desperately needs to help learners reach SMART levels of achievement which we can all objectively see as progress for the individual. If it is the Department for Education that defines the data that is meaningful in relation to English and maths, we may need some further clarification on this matter.

The holistic and human message that it is actually the progress and the story of the students that Ofsted are interested in was encouraging, but left me wondering how an inspector might possibly know that a student looking up from behind her fringe to smile at a classmate and say a few words in an observed lesson is more engagement and distance travelled than they might possibly ever see.

Of course it is difficult to measure a cross-section of learning on a particular day within quantitative data to come to a decision but how else will the complexities of our learners' idiosyncratic journeys be fairly measured and judged?  The more I teach the more I feel how Value-added algorithms and Grades actually appear at times to be diametrically opposed to my day-to-day of helping the nuanced complexities of individual vulnerable learners with social, psychological or learning needs - yet it is their progress that is the most beautiful of all the achievements we ever see.

I left feeling uncertain as to if or even how Ofsted can ever truly measure every individual's progress, but at the same time happy to know that they are not the monolithic fear machine I had heard about, but are in fact as much a work in progress as we are.

To hear Ofsted openly ask us for our views and to see the organisation acknowledge its own areas for improvement  was deeply encouraging and allowed us to see the reflective, human, nurturing, and responsive approach that I know many fellow educators want to see more of.


Scott Hayden

Specialist Practitioner of Social Media and Educational Technology

Basingstoke College of Technology