Is Ofsted outstanding?

Is Ofsted outstanding?

This week it was announced that Ofsted was ditching 1,200 school and college inspectors after assessing them as not good enough to judge schools. The move by England’s education inspectorate is part of its plan to improve quality and consistency, and bring inspections in-house. Teachers have long complained about inspection quality, but Ofsted insists it does not mean it is substandard.

Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement, Sir Robin Bosher, Ofsted’s head of quality and training, said the organisation wanted to have high quality inspectors. He said: “I am committed to making sure that my colleagues in headship can be assured they have a good inspector walking up the path. I’m determined that will happen.”

But National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby said: “You look back and say, for the last few years we’ve been inspected by a group where 40% weren’t up to the job. If Sir Michael Wilshaw had done this from the start, we would have avoided everything that has followed. If people could say, ‘It’s tough but fair,’ then fine, but it was tough and unfair and tackling that should have been a priority.”

Back in 2012 Sir Michael Wilshaw said ‘I believe we need to radically improve our education system and that we need to work together to raise expectations, and close the gaps. The prize is worth having: a good or better education for all our young people, with no excuses accepted.’

It is intriguing that it has taken 3 years for action to be taken inside the very institution that is grading teachers and schools. Sir Michael said “we stand by the inspections that we have done in the last few years. The teaching profession is always being asked to improve and reform, and Ofsted is no different.

Is Ofsted outstanding?

Like Marmite, educators are divided over Ofsted. For Ofsted to come out and say they have got it wrong is good but to cover up inspections that have taken place with rogue inspectors is not.

I have become disappointed that Ofsted does not fully recognise the good work that teachers do in their everyday work. We are all trying to develop, improve and make our teaching the best we can. I do think the government, Ofsted and Sir Michael do need to acknowledge that not all teachers and schools are terrible. As teachers we do seem to get a bad press and not enough support from the people who make the decisions at the top. Like praising a student, praising a teacher can work wonders. Teaching is a great profession but we have to careful we do not put too many pressures on our teachers, as we might find people leaving and causing further issues further down the line. We do not want a situation where young graduates don’t choose teaching as a career or leave after two or three years.

But we do need to continue to raise standards and continue to develop our education system. Changes do need to be made but the right ones. Change for the sake of change is never any good and I do worry that perhaps some institutions will put action plans in place without thinking through the consequences.

Good and outstanding leadership of teaching and learning drives improvement and knows that the culture of the school and the progress of pupils depend on it. To me this makes sense as I believe a school should be based on its teaching.

According to Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of CIMO in Helsinki and author of Finnish Lessons: what can the world learn about educational change in Finland?, ‘it takes 10 000 hours practice to become a great teacher’. This is about 8 to 10 years active service. Therefore consideration must be taken into account for new teachers when inspections are taking place.

I have been teaching twelve years as a teacher. Even now, I am still learning and developing as a teacher. Am I the finished article? Not even close. Ofsted need to recognise that teaching is a career that is constantly evolving and we need to work together. Throughout my twelve years as a teacher it has felt we have two very different remits where Ofsted keep changing the goal posts. We have to work together or education will not develop in the way we wish it to.

With the summer holidays fast approaching we have to be positive and be innovative in our approach to teaching. I thought it would be good timing to revisit Sir Ken Robinson explain his future of education. This animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned education and creativity expert. Enjoy!

Where now for geography?

Where now for geography?

With the recent election, I thought it was time to reflect upon the education changes it could potentially have. For the past five years we have undergone a huge change in education within the UK. The election in May gave the country a chance to make a change, and potentially, stop some of the changes that will be affecting the next generations’ school experience and learning. It was recently announced that all secondary school pupils in England will have to take GCSEs in five core academic subjects, under plans set out by Schools Minister Nick Gibb.

Mr Gibb says he makes “no apology for expecting every child” to have a “high-quality education”.

The Conservative manifesto pledged that all pupils would take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and either history or geography. The Conservatives’ election manifesto said that pupils would have to study GCSEs in the so-called EBacc subjects – English, maths, science, a language and history or geography. And that if schools did not offer them, they would not be eligible for a top Ofsted rating (this would not apply to pupils with special needs).

As a geography teacher I am torn between applauding Nick Gibb for raising geography’s profile as a subject and that we are not offering students a wide broad curriculum for all students. As a teacher of geography, I want students to want to be there, not forced. I do see change as a good thing. Change can bring many benefits to teachers and students alike. But changes to the curriculum do need to be made but not to the deterrent of several subjects and choice for young people.

Bill Watkin, operational director of the school support and training body SSAT, said many heads felt the EBacc was not appropriate for all youngsters and that many head teachers in England will refuse to make all pupils study five traditional GCSE subjects, a director of a prominent education body has said. He said a recent snapshot survey of members had been inundated with school leaders saying they would rather lose their top rating than adopt a one-size-fits-all approach

Those schools that do not have 100% of pupils studying this set of subjects as part of their GCSE courses will not be able to obtain Ofsted’s top rating of “outstanding”. The government said the wraparound qualification had been introduced to ensure pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were not deterred from studying academic subjects.

But Mr Watkin said: “The risk is that pupils who can’t access some of these subjects will become disaffected and disenfranchised. It may cause some pupils to do less well in their exams.”

Where now for geography?

In recent years press coverage has put geography under the spotlight. According to Hannah Richardson of the BBC; ‘geography was declining in many of England’s schools as pupils turn away from a subject they find “boring and irrelevant”.

‘Ofsted said that in one in 10 primary schools visited by Ofsted, geography was said to be disappearing. The report also points out shrinking numbers of secondary pupils are taking the subject at GCSE and A-level.

It feels that geography has entered into the fight for its very survival as a curriculum subject.

To me, geography is more important today than ever before in today’s uncertain times. When I was at school I was taught by some inspirational teachers like my old geography teacher Graham Currie. I was transfixed by the awe and wonder of our planet from the amazing landforms of glaciation, the climatic changes on the earth and how people brace themselves against a sometimes cruel world. Geography has always been a fascinating subject.

Every time I look at my phone, iPad or even a newspaper I see current issues that need to be taught and explained in full.  Young people need to become global citizens and encouraged to learn about their local area, their county, their country and about the world. Geography has for some time been losing its position of importance. In KS3, 4 and 5 elements of geography are taught in other subject areas especially science.

As learners we need to love geography and appreciate its right in education. Geography deserves its place on the curriculum as it is a subject of the 21st Century.

I ask is that our Ministers and Education Authorities stop and think. They must speak to the teachers in Primary, Middle and Secondary Schools. They have to find out how these changes will impact on a child’s learning. I openly invite Nicky Morgan or Nick Gibb to visit and listen to my views.

As teachers we do have the resources, we do have the expertise, we do have the knowledge, and we can change education for the better for the future. But without the right backing I sadly see a curriculum lacking in vision and failing to provide the future generation the right knowledge to tackle it.

How to survive in teaching?

How to survive in teaching?

The last few years in education have been one of change and planning for the future. With new GCSEs, AS/A2 curriculum changes it has made reflective of my time as a teacher.

I am currently working at my third school and Head of Department for the second time. I have been very lucky to work with supportive and motivated colleagues who always want to improve the department. For a successful department I believe you must not look at too many areas to change, focus, innovate or tweak. The key is to recognise and highlight the areas that need most attention. Geoff Barton, headteacher of the King Edward VI School in Suffolk, likened managing a large department to plate spinning! You have to be able to manage each of the areas you start to change – too many and the plates start crashing around you. Making sure your strategies are manageable and flexible, you are able to keep a good grasp and move the strategies forward.

Recently, I have been thinking back to the days as a young fresh-faced NQT, where I had no management responsibilities and was starting out on my road as a teacher. Teaching in my opinion is the best job in the world. To actually see the look of wonder and understanding on someone’s face is something that cannot be bought. To pass on knowledge and see where it takes a young person in life is amazing.

To continue to develop as a teacher I have found blogs a great source to further understand and new learn skills as a teacher. I have always said that a teacher never stops learning. Just like the students, we as teachers are constantly learning new techniques to improve the methods we use in the classroom. This is part of the reason why I love teaching; it is never dull and is a challenge.

Out on the blogosphere are some brilliant writers who share their teaching experiences, daily routines, ideas, schemes of work, lessons – you name and teachers are writing about it! Reading about someone else’s experience can create and add to your armoury of activities for the classroom.

Teaching can sometimes be a lonely job, with yourself up against 30 students challenging you. It can sometimes feel like you are the Lone Ranger but that is not so. Using people around you can make your life mush easier, especially when you need help or guidance. For a young teacher this possibly the best tip I can pass on – talk to those around you.

How to survive in teaching?

I have worked in some great departments where working together and sharing ideas/workloads makes everybody feel important and better about themselves. The success of a Department should improve too with more minds working together. The work/life balance is very important and should never be forgotten.

Being innovative and brave within a classroom can bring enjoyment, success and respect. I admit not every idea I have tried has worked but those that do can enhance the student’s experience of the subject. Trialling new ideas improve your lessons and enjoyment as a teacher. It is not always easy trying out new ideas. It is very easy to stay in the comfort zone but without trying out new ideas we do develop ourselves as teachers and will not improve.

Idris Mootee, of the Innovation Playground blog, has said; ‘innovation is hard, it is not about getting the ideas at all, it is about managing ideas. So you have a few great ideas, so what? The future is never about the future but now.’

As teachers we work long hours and spend many lessons preparing and planning work. We have the aim of teaching and working with our students on achieving their personal best and gaining the grades they deserve. But we must enjoy our working life. There are many pressures in the education industry and targets to achieve. As I have said, teaching is the best job in the world. To actually help young people in life choose a path in their life with your encouragement and guidance is amazing, but with all the politics involved a sense of humour is needed. I sometimes refer to teaching as stand-up comedy. You must think fast on your feet and be quick-witted where possible. We are working with some tough, intelligent and emotional young people who will test us all at some point. It can feel on occasions like walking onto stage at There is much to enjoy from teaching, just don’t forget the positives.

As teachers we are sometimes too controlling and we must put the onus back on the students for them to achieve. Investigating methods and ways of implementing this into schemes of work must be a priority. This will only encourage student learning and raise achievement across all year groups.

Finally, teaching must become more reflective throughout our practice. We must use our strengths and work on our areas of development. This should therefore improve our own teaching and benefit the students. Teaching is great – don’t forget it!

How can films help teaching?

How can films help teaching?

I have always been using documentaries and footage from DVDs and videos in my lessons. It got my mind racing on different aspects of films that could be shown to pupils within different subject areas. I soon realised that films could enhance and develop a pupils learning and encourage them to be life long learners.

Films can enhance a lesson and excite a young mind with their powerful and thought-provoking subject matter. My good friend from my Southampton University days, Dr. Pietari Kaapa of the University of Stirling, has stated that, ‘cinema as both a popular form of entertainment and a means of artistic and political expression, is a crucial area of classroom teaching. The pedagogical potential of film provides an immediate and invigorating addition to established lesson plans, while the history of the medium and its contextual socio-cultural relevance function as sources of study in their own right.’

As a Geography Teacher I have used a wide variety of different films to help show and back up key terminology or sometimes complex geographical features. The world today has created a generation of young people with very active minds. The days of a teacher in a classroom talking for 50 minutes are long gone and would not generate much enthusiasm from today’s young learners. Interaction and variety is what is needed to engage learners and film is one medium that can grip a young person’s attention. Film can enthuse and generate much debate and help a learner.

How can films help teaching?

Pupils are requested to use and take part in different types of media within their learning from the National Curriculum. Films like music should be encouraged to be used within the classroom. My good friend and former flatmate, Nick Hargreaves, of Radipole Primary School in Weymouth, Dorset, believes that ‘films are a really valid text as much as books. With the National Curriculum we have to look at various types of media within a child’s learning and film is one way.’

‘Films are not always easy to understand and it does take time sometimes for a young learner to fully understand the complexities of a film like the music changing in relation to the mood of the film.’ As we are aware there are three types of learners; visual, auditory and kinesthetic. A film is one medium that incorporates all three learning styles and can hold the attention and pass on knowledge and understanding to all three main learning styles. Nick Hargreaves says ‘film takes into account how a learner learns…it attracts the three main types of learners and engages all of them in one sitting. It reaches out to all target levels especially boys’.

I remember reading Great Expectations at school and found watching the David Lean adaption a much-needed guiding hand when it came to revising for the GCSE. A film may not always be true or correct, but in the right hands, us as teachers, we can filter out the bad and use the great pieces of film there is out there waiting to be used. I would really like to know what films you use in the classroom – do you have a ‘Top Ten Movie List’? Please send in your comments or by twitter @tiddtalk – I look forward to reading your choices!

What would Bowie do?

What would Bowie do?

Bowie. David Bowie. Yes, that’s right, the chameleon of pop music. What would Bowie do if he was in charge of the education system? This is a question I have been coming back to over the last few months. With all the educational changes, upheaval and strikes, I have been thinking more and more about what would happen and change if Bowie was in charge.

I’ve been a massive fan of Bowie all my life, from the highs of Ziggy Stardust, Soul Man and The Thin White Duke, to the lows where he attempted dance music and tried to get down with the kids at late night raves. Bowie attempted all types of musical styles, even if it didn’t work out and his fans and critics were appalled with the outcome. Bowie didn’t care. He wanted change. He wanted to take risks. He wanted the challenge.

What would Bowie do?

When Michael Gove was replaced with Nicky Morgan, to me, this was an opportunity for change, a positive change. I kept this thought with me as I organised TeachMeet Dorset (#TMDorset) back in October 2014. I presented my thoughts that night on how David Bowie would make a difference as Education Minister. It was soon afterwards that Innovate My School got in contact as they had noticed a lot of interest about the talk via twitter. Innovate My School invited me to write an article on this very topic. The full article can be viewed here which was published in November 2014. Thank you to James Cain, Innovate My School editor, for his interest and publishing it.

When it was published I was attending TeachMeet Taunton (#TMTaunton) with my polished version of ‘What would Bowie do?’ presentation. I was lucky to be chosen as the final speaker ending a great evening with ‘Rebel Rebel’ blaring out loudly to the crowd. The evening was recorded and my performance can be viewed below:

Finally, the message from Bowie is, as teachers we mustn’t be afraid of taking risks and challenging ourselves. This would ultimately be raising the bar and could only improve teaching. If Bowie was running the Department of Education, change would definitely be on the agenda. It might not all work, but imagine the fun we would have. Think like Bowie next time you are planning and teaching. What would Bowie do?

Think before you tweet!

Think before you tweet!

For the past four years I have been a fan of twitter (@tiddtalk). It has enabled me to network very freely with other like minded teachers and educators around the world. This can enable you to spread information very quickly on what is happening now or a particular moment. It is an excellent resource to spread information especially if you have updated your blog and are looking for instant readership. It is a great use of technology and is something I have found to be a great source of learning and enjoyment.

Recently at my school, twitter and blogging has taken off with a recent twilight on the subject. This is fantastic news for my fellow teachers for their CPD and for our students. But we have to be very careful with what we write and who we share this information with. As long as we are professional and think before we tweet we should not fear this medium of sharing information and knowledge. Twitter is here to stay and is the future of learning. Using technology in the right way can only improve our lessons and sharing of ideas.

We have created @GillGeographers for our students to follow in geography. This will be a dedicated twitter address for geographical events that are taking part in the world, to improve case study knowledge, world issues and information regarding the geography department.

With @GillGeographers and for my school I have come up with a few twitter rules:

• Keep your ‘school/education/department’ account to be used for school separate from your personal one. I do not let any student follow @tiddtalk, I check my followers daily and block any students who have found me as it is my private account.

• What do you want to do with this account? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want to communicate? Your ‘school/education/department’ twitter account could be used as a broadcast account to start off with sharing news links and information. This is perhaps the “safer” option initially as you get used to using twitter and what you want to do with it.

• The account will need to be looked after and kept up to date as social networking is an immediate thing which can demand an immediate response. Will there be just one person who will post or will you have multiple people who post? Remember to keep it simple to start with.

• Who do you want to follow? I think it would be unwise to follow students as it would be possible to direct message (private message) them. The @GillGeographers account will not be following anyone as there is no need to.

• How will you respond to questions directed at you? Do you need to send a message to a student via twitter? I think twitter is appropriate for students to send a message to your school account if it is a task related assignment i.e. find a news story on the Arctic and they send you the link for example.

• Never give out personal information such as your address/phone number/personal things – remember this is your school/education account!

• Don’t say anything on twitter that you wouldn’t say face-to-face. Remember it is a public space – it’s not the same as sending an email or a text message to one recipient. Once sent, tweets can be seen by anyone and if retweeted, can quickly take on a life of their own even if you delete it!

• Choose a strong password (a mixture of numbers and letters which would be hard for anyone else to guess) and do not share it.

• Turn off the ‘add location to tweet’ feature – to do this, click on the ‘settings’ option from the drop down menu to the right of the search box and untick the box (if it is ticked) next to the ‘add a location to my tweets’ option and then click on ‘save changes’.

• Think carefully about the details you put in the ‘bio’ section and any photo’s you use.If you have a personal twitter account I would advise you to not follow the ‘school/education/department’ one as students will only look at your account and follow you & potential other teachers who you follow in your followers list. This only creates work for you blocking them! @tiddtalk is open to the world to view so students no doubt have looked at it but it is not for them to follow (@GillGeographers is for them!) I think very carefully what I put up there as anyone can read it.

• And probably the most important rule, think before you tweet!

Think before you tweet!

I have tried to keep these rules simple and so teachers do not get into trouble using twitter.

Additionally to this, Jim Docherty, assistant secretary of the SSTA, told BBC Scotland that teachers should follow this advice: “First thing is don’t bother telling anybody else about your social life. Nobody is interested about your social life and it doesn’t help.”

“Secondly, never make any comment about your work, about your employer, about teaching issues in general. There is always a possibility it will be misinterpreted.”

Contact me via @tiddtalk to let us know how you are getting on with twitter and it’s use in your classroom. Remember, think before you tweet!

Who you calling a failure?

The Success of Failure

I have been reading John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ (a book I am sure many of you have read). It is looking at fifteen years of research involving millions of students and gives evidence into what actually works in schools to improve learning. It really is an enlightening book to read and does get you thinking. It has certainly made me think!

One particular reference point focuses on Michael Jordan – probably the greatest basketball player of all time. Now I am a massive fan of Michael Jordan, one of the greatest sportsman ever in my humble opinion. John Hattie refers to the YouTube clip seen below, where Michael talks about his failures in basketball; ‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’

It is a great clip and is something all teachers should perhaps think about. I have never been afraid of trying out something new. I have always seen teaching as an opportunity to trial new ideas. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t – but I’m not afraid to take a chance as long as it improves the student learning and experience. Without the risk factor and trying something different I would never of progressed as a teacher.

We are under enormous pressure from the never-ending educational changes and the results driven route our system has taken. This has been a detriment to teachers. We should be allowed to develop and implement new innovative ideas, improving our lessons. In teaching it’s too easy (and boring!) to do the same thing – I dare you to try something new tomorrow! Go on, do it! It might work…if not try again the next day and see what happens! I would be really interested to hear your experiences @tiddtalk