Easier Ofsted

7th May 2004 at 01:00
Tony Elston shares what he's learned about making the inspector happy.

However stressful Ofsted inspections are, we all appreciate official confirmation that we teach effectively. So here are my top 10 tips for a successful inspection.

1. Do your homework. Obtain as much information as you can about which lessons the modern languages inspector is likely to visit. Is he or she only inspecting on certain days? If the inspector sees lots of key stage 3 lessons on day one, he or she will be probably be more interested in KS4 lessons on day two. Remember, though, that it is better to plan a range of lessons reasonably well rather than just one brilliantly.

2. Begin at the end. Mike Hughes, former headteacher of the Lakers School, Gloucestershire, encapsulates the essence of good teaching in two questions: "What have your pupils learned? How do you know?" Decide what your learners must have learned by the lesson end.

3. Plan your plenary. List your questions in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest. This allows you to break off at any stage to match the point you reached in your teaching. Note the answers on an overhead transparency. You can then call out your questions, monitor pupils' answers as they write them and reveal the correct answers afterwards, highlighting any difficulties.

4. Aim high. Allow learners to demonstrate the highest national curriculum level at which they are capable of working. This is easier if lessons during the inspection follow on from previous work, since beginning a new topic frequently requires the presentation of new language at a lower level initially.

5. Show you know your class. Tailor to each class an appropriate balance of skills. Pupils can typically concentrate for a maximum of their age in minutes, so a class of 11-year-olds needs a change of activity about every 11 minutes.

6. Differentiate. Include tasks to stretch the more able and support for those who find the language hard.

7. Exploit the MFL framework. Focus on framework objectives from the five headings: words; sentences; texts; listening and speaking; cultural knowledge and contact. Adapt suitable ideas from the optional training programme modules: starters; setting lesson objectives; modelling; questioning; practice; plenaries; creativity; target language.

8. Stick to the target language. Avoid English by ensuring learners have at their fingertips everything they need to complete tasks, such as clear examples and helpful vocabulary. Sod's law guarantees that the inspector will miss impressive pupil utterances in the target language.

Do not be afraid to praise the pupil to the skies, then ask the inspector to listen: "Madame l'inspectrice, ecoutez Harry s'il vous plait. Harry, rep te s'il te plait."

9. Consider bribery. For a disaffected class which does not respond to school rewards, consider what it would take to get them to do their very best. One difficult Year 11 group I taught in a previous school allowed me to teach them properly just once - during our Ofsted inspection. At the end, Patricia asked: "Now can we have that Coke you promised us, Sir?"

Embarrassed, I explained our agreement to the inspector, who smiled and said: "Can I have a Coke too?"

10 Reward yourself. Whether your observed lessons went like a dream or a nightmare, you have put in a phenomenal amount of effort. Treat yourself to a thoroughly deserved reward, such as a bottle of something strong from a country whose mother tongue is a language you teach.

Tony Elston is head of modern languages at Urmston Grammar School, Manchester.

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