Special Measures: Part 1

Having been through a number of OFSTED inspections in a range of different roles, it goes without saying that this was the worst.

I think that it’s only when you go through an experience like this one that you really understand the ill feeling that the inspectorate can create within colleagues. I’d spoken to colleagues from other local schools that have had negative experiences, one that said that they knew a team had it in for them when they cited letting students use a lift as a safeguarding issue, another when they criticised the ‘gap’ in a PE lesson when a PP student couldn’t do as many press ups as a non-PP student. However, I think for me, it was on the first morning when, after two hours, the only positive my school had received was being told that something was ‘not, not effective’. It was then that I knew for sure we were headed towards the dreaded number 4. And then, after the two days of numerous meetings that were driving us to identify what didn’t work- and which seemingly ignored what we were doing to make things work because they hadn’t produced any quantifiable student outcomes-  we were give the opportunity to attend the meeting to get the ‘feedback’ which I had known by 1100 of the first day was coming.

My school had suffered a huge drop in GCSE results in 2015. That cohort were ‘difficult’ and truth be told, the school (myself very much included) didn’t manage them and get the best out of them. Maths was low, English dropped by 20% and that left us very vulnerable, even with positive value added at KS5. We had recognised this and attempted to make strides to improve. A new assessment and feedback policy, heavy investment in Professional Learning, development of a new curriculum model and QA process were a few things that we could present our visitors. Alongside this the head had commissioned a leadership review early in the year, we had received a RSC commissioned DfE visit in November to encourage us to become part of a MAT (We wanted to do this anyway so were actually quite receptive to this) and we also had a Pupil Premium Peer review in January, so, by February when we had the full two day inspection I’d already had my fair share of visits from ‘Inspectors’ and as a school we’d already had buckets of feedback. These visits and their feedback had identified capacity to improve.

The real thing when it came did not.

Being told you’re inadequate in all areas is a really strange experience. You know that you shouldn’t take it personally but do. When they make some valid points and you know that they are in areas that you have responsibility for, you feel huge guilt about the outcome as well- and then you really do take it personally and I would argue that anyone who says otherwise is lying. Added to this I teach in my home town, in the area that I’m from, in a school that the children of my friends have attended and do attend. What follows then is the feeling of guilt that you are letting these people, and of course others in the local community, down. How can you face them when you see them? The education that their children receive is inadequate. Safeguarding the education of their children is a huge responsibility and one I take with the absolute sincerity that I would want a teacher to take with the education of my own children. It means that you do take it personally.

It’s easy then to just be bitter that they didn’t notice or ask about things that exist within the school that work well? How could they not see it? Why not go to subjects like Art and PE when we told you there was some excellent practice there? Why didn’t I make them see it? Would it even have made a difference?

Then you worry about your job. What next? As a Deputy Head you start to think about how it could be perceived that you have had a negative impact through your role, the report certainly doesn’t offer any positives (outside of post-16 which was not, not effective- or good in other words) and again I think anyone with that level of responsibility upwards would be lying if they didn’t have concerns about whether this judgement would impact upon their ability to provide for their families, so you worry that you’ve let them down as well. But- then you get back to Monday and you get back to work and you think about what you need to do first and you get on with that.

First? Behaviour. Has to be.

It was cited in our report as having a hugely detrimental impact on learning so you cannot avoid it. I would argue that you can never ignore it. The omnipresent, underlying thingthatshallnotbenamed within schools.  The need to develop the conditions for teaching and learning to take place is one that is of paramount importance and in a situation like SM you need to work swiftly to make a dent into this, not least because OFSTED are going to come back in 6 weeks and you need to show them that you’ve already had some impact. This won’t be enough- but it is where you have to start, and once you’ve started where you have to maintain an absolute unwavering focus so that the teaching and outcomes that you need to show can have a chance of happening.

At my school this meant in the first instance banning mobile phones.  ‘Bullying is rife’ within my school- though at the same time students feel safe. The ‘rife’ takes place mainly within social media and we need to ensure that this was not taking place at school. We let the students know that we would have a ‘Not Seen, Not Heard’ policy for their mobile devices and the following week we did just that. All the talk of student protests turned out to be just talk and within a single week phones, bar the odd confiscation, were out of circulation during the school day. The other aspect that needed addressing was the zoning of students into supervised areas of the school. To do this meant increasing the duties of the SLT. Everyone pulled together and were deployed within specifically allocated areas of the school that mean that we can monitor the students and help them to feel safe by ensuring that the corners within the school are covered. Within the same week this had settled too. But these are short term, initial fixes , longer term we know we need to address the lessons and the low level behaviour that compromises them.  In this we need to  have a greater focus on pre-emption and the eradicating of the behaviours that lead to low-level disruption. This is a bigger fix and to achieve this there needs to be total whole school recognition of the importance of this pre-emption and a whole school commitment to making it work.

Ultimately it’ll come down to two things: great systems and consistent routines.

Whether we are successful in developing and embedding them and the impact that this has is what I’ll write about next.

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Author: @petenealon

Teacher who is mainly writing about education. Reflections on my own Professional Learning and the learning taking place where I work

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