Earlier this year, Ofsted updated their document outlining exactly what they do not require when visiting schools. The "Ofsted inspections: myths" document was released with the alleged intention of reducing workload. But has it had an effect?
Take "deep marking", for instance. Once hailed as good practice, popular wisdom now rejects it and the myths document clearly states: “Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback.” This means that the highlighters can be binned and the tick-boxes abolished.
But despite "deep" marking being neither effective nor compulsory, teachers are still spending many hours a week on it. Professional distrust is still very much alive. A teacher’s practice is still judged by what is "evident" in pupils’ exercise books, so there is an assumption that the more red/green/purple pen, the more the teacher has done to "close the gap".
And that’s not all. Attacks on the "charismatic" teacher still continue. You know, the one who has a strong enough presence to orderly teach a large chunk of the lesson with nothing but a board marker? That teacher. Teaching "from the front" can be enough for a teacher’s lesson to be lambasted as being “too teacher-led”. How dare a teacher stand in front of their class and explain something? Clearly this is wrong?
Of course it isn’t. According to the myths document: “Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. It is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits.” In other words, if it works, do it.
In spite of this, "teaching from the front" is still considered to be bad practice by many (even if it’s effective) and teachers complain of lesson observation feedback being unnecessarily pernickety or inane. It is still common for "areas for development" boxes to contain suggestions for "better" PowerPoint fonts, and comments such as "not enough group work".
'We can put an end to this'
Why do these discrepancies still exist? “Who are you doing this for?” asked primary teacher Mr Parkinson in a recent video posted on his Facebook page, in which he discussed how some teaching adverts have wrongly normalised bureaucratic tasks such as "deep marking". So who are we doing this for? Well, it wouldn’t be ludicrous to suggest that senior leaders put such policies in place for no other purpose than to monitor staff in order to hold them unreasonably accountable.
At the same time, however, we cannot let Ofsted off the hook completely. If senior leaders are still placing teachers under unnecessary scrutiny, it is likely due to a numerical target which has been forced upon them – ironically, by Ofsted.
Let’s also not forget the words of the former chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who, in a 2012 interview, said: “If anyone says to you that 'staff morale is at an all-time low' you know you are doing something right.” Sadly, the myths document was produced during his tenure.
Nonetheless, the document does still exist and, unlike Ofsted, senior leaders are within teachers’ spheres of influence. What we complain about in the staffroom, at the pub and online must make its way into school meetings at every level of the hierarchy. While acting alone risks putting you in the firing line and emails to the head sharing the latest research on "deep marking" will at best be ignored, if a substantial number of teachers express their views through their union representative (and are willing to back them up through words and action) perhaps we can put an end to this.
Omar Akbar is a teacher and author of The (Un)official teacher’s manual: What they don’t teach you in training