Outstanding

It used to be one of my favourite adjectives. I thought it was the perfect way to describe something so good it stood out from the crowd, but now I hate the word. I die a little inside everytime I read or hear it. The reason this is is that in the majority of contexts I hear it in it no longer means outstanding. It means ‘ticked a lot of boxes that often have no bearing on learning.”

I was once told by a senior leader that one NQT was outstanding and one required improvement. The outstanding one had made less than expected progress over the course of the year with the class in quest and the requires improvement one had made more progress in his class than any other class in the year group. It was this experience that led me to really believe that the criteria people were using to judge teaching was fundamentally flawed.

A colleague told me a few weeks ago that he’d “never be outstanding” but would get his classes to make excellent progress. I told him that this made him outstanding and that finally, since the Sutton trust report and reviewed ofsted guidance, this was being recognised by the inspectorate. The colleague then raised this idea in a training course with a lead ofsted inspector who told him he “vehemently disagreed” with this idea and that engagement and gimmicks were required to be outstanding. He apparently spoke highly of use of mini whiteboards but then said their use needed to be evidenced in books, which kinda defeats the point,  in my opinion.

I was disheartened by this news, because it seemed that despite ofsted making progress at an institutional level that lead inspectors weren’t paying the blindest bit of attention. But then I found myself in a meeting with a different lead HMI inspector who spoke of teaching and learning judgments being intrinsically linked to outcomes. This gave me hope that the first guy had been a rogue.

The weirdest thing with the tick box brigade is that they all have their own, seemingly different, checklist that needs to be followed. Here are some of the oddest:

Success criteria on every slide

This comes from the idea that meta cognition is something that has a positive effect on learning. I can believe this. But meta cognition is sharing the destination and how to get there with the student. Writing success criteria on every slide isn’t meta cognition, it’s ticking a box, especially given that some people don’t even discuss them.

Lolly sticks

And other random name selection devices. I’m not massively against their use, if a teacher struggles to include all students in their own questioning then by all means use them. But there are many occasions where targeted, differentiated, questioning is more relevant. I know one teacher who was applauded for his use of them, but actually he’d used blank ones and targeted the questions, using them purely because he knew the observer liked them.

Verbal feedback stamps

The idea that verbal feedback needs written evidence seems silly. A former colleague asked me recently I’d I had any ideas of how he could evidence verbal feedback. Student notes weren’t good enough at his school and he needed a way to evidence it better from a teachers perspective. The only way I can see is to type or write it out, but then it ceases to be verbal feedback and becomes written feedback. Surely the improvement in the quality of the work is evidence itself?

There are many other ideas like this, some based on solid foundations but losing their meaning through the mandatory nature they are imposed and the relentless need for evidence. I’ve even heard of schools where teachers have their entire lessons prescribed for them. Surely this is not what it should be about? Surely, as teachers, we need to be in charge of our classrooms, and using our knowledge of our subject and our students to plan the best lessons for each of them to progress?

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  1. July 12, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I loathe ticking boxes for the sake of it. Not only is it incredibly demoralising to be reduced in such a way, we also end up thinking that if it’s not tickable, it’s not valuable.

    • July 12, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      Aye, id certainly agree with you there.

  2. July 16, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  1. November 24, 2015 at 5:27 pm

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