Friday 21 February 2014

Famous Five go to Ofsted

There is no doubt in my mind that what the Famous Five achieved in "Ofsted Grade-gate" is a real break-through. Well done all! "No more grading of individual lessons".  I’m not sure it has sunk in yet.  Certainly, we must reiterate, promote and further interpret the statements made by Mike Cladingbowl, on behalf of Ofsted.  I have read all the blogs with real interest and, to be honest, joy!  

L-R Tom Bennett, David Didau, Shena Lewington, Mike Cladingbowl, Tom Sherringham and Ross McGill.

Read their excellent accounts here: Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit), David Didau (@LearningSpy), Tom Bennett / his second report (@TomBennett71), Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher ) and Shena Lewington ( @clerktogovernor )

Why joy? Because they spoke so eloquently for me and all those others, who have been trudging this trail for such a long time and it is wonderful to see over the coll into the next valley.

So, I just want to pinch myself and clarify what I am reading into this, because, from this point it has to be about how we interpret what has been agreed, or set in place. Please…. there is no hint of cynicism in what follows, I am not being negative, I just want to make sure we move forward surely, carefully and don't slide back.  Watch out for the snipers too.  And it's not just enemies.  Some friendly fire is rattling around the twitter drum e.g. “no more grading…”  

Can I check these thoughts with The Famous Five, the Magnificent Seven?

1. No one is saying no judgements about teaching and learning...indeed no-one is saying no grading of teaching and learning (in the sense that a level e.g. Inadequate - Outstanding will still, eventually, be applied) What is being agreed is, that no grading of individual lessons will be sanctioned in future.

Check - did you really understand that last sentence?  Read it again.... Check in the Blogs above.... It's true...  even better see Mike Cladingbowl's excellent clarification here

2. So, how the eventual description/grade/judgement about teaching and learning is arrived at (in a report/visit) will be critical and the various statements about this being far more finessed and a triangulation between what is observed + work scrutiny + student/teacher interview + results analysis etc. is to be wildly, ecstatically, applauded.  I have called this melding of impressions the "nous" of the professional – who is able to compute the myriad of local factors into an overall judgement.  This skill is far, far, more than number crunching (or worse averaging) individual lesson grades.  Sadly, it is a skill yet to be learnt by many….

3. Moving some of the current practice in terms of Lesson Observation forms (with grades) and inspector practice will, as each blogger says, take a long time.  Learned behaviours are sticky and it will be like turning round the proverbial oil tanker.  We will need the whistle blowing tug-boats, to nudge and barge this practice into line.  Any systematic collection of bad practice and the AskOfsted idea, plus the Blogs of intelligent professionals will play their part in keeping rogue inspectors on task. So, we must all be pilots now.

4. An immediate issue will be the tendency of some, in this year of Performance Management, PRP, to use the data filled School Administration Systems  (SIMS, BlueSky Wave, SchoolIP, Osiris etc), to collate the Lesson Grades from internal observations into one grade and use this to assess pay grades.  Heads, Teachers and Unions must be watchful.  I am still appalled that many teachers are blithely entering data into these "big brother" systems with little knowledge of who has access to their data and for what purposes.  Just one question for now.... Does it follow (from this new ruling) that teachers can require (demand) that all grading of their lesson observations is removed from School Administration System databases?*  There will be many more repercussions from this decision - we need to work through them and find a positive way forward.  One real fear I do have is that, anticipating some of these “problems” might cause a change of heart at Ofsted.

I final couple of thoughts for now...

Many have been so obsessed with this grading/judgement issue to the point when others (OK I mean me) have offered two key points, they have been studiously ignored..

5. My first is that it is who makes the judgement (applies the finesse to that overall grade) that really matters. Too much of the “grade, or not to grade”, debate has simply assumed that inspectors grade and teachers accept, or challenge.  We ought to be promoting a professional development, or capacity building, quality assurance model, where the learner… be they student, teacher, head, governor speaks first to make and justify their self-evaluated judgement and then the observer, teacher, colleague, coach, mentor, consultant, yes even inspector’s role is to validate this self-evaluation.  I have always believed that it is through the ensuing dialogue that we really learn and progress.  It is in this dialogue that the twin stumbling blocks of criterion and evidence have to be negotiated.

6. And can we please, please move on from the issue of making the judgement – even with this wonderful breakthrough, to the really important issue which is, “So what?”  I have often quoted Schmitt, “Hey I am drowning here and all you are doing is describing the water!”  

"I'm drowning here and all you're doing is describing the water!"

Learning, improvement, and progress is not judging where we are.  We need to analyse why things are as they are and act to maintain, sustain and progress…  It is not the judgement stupid – it’s the action that flows from it that matters…

I’d like to say more and think more about this...but on this sunny Friday night I’m going to stop and raise a glass or two to our Famous Five, or Magnificent Seven to include Mike Cladingbowl and the Unnamed Teacher, who has been behind the scenes all through and say simply - thanks. I am not sure that even you, or I, have realised what this really means... But I do know it will be good, very good, even outstanding.  

I grade it 5 or 7....oops...


* The iAbacus self-evaluation and improvement model was designed to be different.  It is for Professional Development and capacity building.  It is the only system that provides individual users with a unique code, so that only they can access the information they insert - unless they choose to share it through the collaboration feature. It comes prepopulated with the latest Ofsted criteria, and many other sets of criteria (which can be added to and amended) and refers to this latest Ofsted clarification of grading.  See video  and rationale and theory behind The iAbacus

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Of Mice and Elephants

Well, a few weeks ago I was asked to write guest BLOG for

Breaking down barriers to change

Of Mice and Elephants about the plight of small businesses     here

Of mice and IT elephants – guest blog

By John Pearce

I heard your interview on BBC’s World at One today Tony. You were saying there may be potential for fleet-of-foot small IT firms to access government contracts. It was music to my ears.

You referred to the NHS and Universal Credit IT disasters and the way contracting has been dominated by a few big beasts and multi-nationals.  You killed the myth that “big is beautiful”  and praised “new rules”  to break up projects into smaller units.

Small can be perfectly formed and powerful. Businesses like ours are quick-reflex mice stuck behind the elephants blocking the doors. Why don’t they just sit out of the way, in the room, like other elephants?

We are an SME in IT.  We have great pedigree, an innovative product, a presence in education and are ready to break into the business world and government work more generally. But without the bulk and buying power to advertise, lobby and bid for the current huge projects we have not been able to do much, if anything. We are encountering elephant in the door syndrome.

So we continue doing what we do, scurrying like mad, working unreasonable but happily given hours. It is not in the country’s interest for us to be tired, blocked and trapped. We fear being swallowed up, of losing our identity. I suppose it might be quicker than being slowly squashed under an elephant’s backside.


Dan O’Brien, my business partner, is young, creative, dynamic and rushed off his feet.  I am three of those and old.  He has run a small successful software company for 15 years. I had a successful senior career in education and in business as consultant, evaluator, writer and publisher.  I created a deceptively simple, improvement model for individual, team and organisation. So, Dan and I created an on-line version.

We launched “The iAbacus” in 2012 and were finalists in the BETT2014Awards [hosted by Jo Brand] on 22 January 2014.  There were lots of mice competing with us and the usual elephants. But before we announce the winner let’s have a look at the iAbacus focusing on school governance. 

We dream of developing this and moving into business generally. We see a huge potential for this “empowering personnel” approach applied to NHS and civil service personnel. Up to now the elephants have blocked the way, or grinned through the windows while they ate ice buns. Can elephants grin?

We didn’t win the Bett2014 Big Cheese but it was a great show – it makes people like us feel good.  Yes, coming back to the office was disappointing but we are nibbling away, on-line, working in education but, even in this field I know so well, customers can be sniffy too – “small is ugly and simple is simplistic; let’s go for the big suppliers”. 

New rules

Will the Cabinet Office’s new rules work?

 Not unless there is support for small outfits like ours who, intent on the day to day business, will struggle writing the bids and attending the selections. We’ll keep running and swerving around elephant bottoms but we need muscle power and finance for the advertising and lobbying. We need to elbow past the elephants, get an audience with buyers.  Is there anyone out there?  Echo…echo….echo…

Or, are there friendly elephants out there who could help us, encourage and include us?  Could the regulations persuade them?  How about a clause like the one when planning new houses?  Every housing project has to include a percentage of affordable homes. How about every IT contract having to include a percentage of SMEs?  

I want to one of them. I want to be a Trojan Mouse!

John Pearce is a freelance consultant, working across education, business and community. After a successful career in teaching and headship, he became Deputy Chief Inspector for Nottinghamshire County Council. He was a BETT2014 finalist for The iAbacus which he created with Dan O’Brien.

BBC’s World at One focus on government IT.