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15

Your Ofsted Grade is Wrong

Chimera Grades

According to Greek mythology, a Chimera is a hideous fire-breathing creature composed from the parts of two or more animals. Lion, goat, snake. Dog, gerbil, sloth. You get the idea. Current Ofsted grades are chimeric and about as helpful as the little known pig-ant-whale.

Your four possible educational judgements go like this: Outstanding. Good. Requires Improvement. Inadequate. Outstanding is a divisive adjective; Good, a moral judgement; Requires Improvement a call to action and Inadequate is simply demoralising. Each label has been picked from a different continuum and cobbled together into a monstrous hybrid. One down from 'Outstanding' is not 'Good'. It's 'Noteworthy'. One up from 'Requires Improvement' is not 'Good' either, it's 'Doesn't Require Improvement.'

Consistency Please

If we want at least some consistency, regardless of usefulness or accuracy, the grades should go something like one of these:

  • Outstanding - Noteworthy - Unremarkable - Invisible
  • Very Good - Good - Bad - Very Bad
  • Doesn't Require Improvement - Requires Improvement - Really Must Improve. Now.
  • More Than Adequate - Adequate - Inadequate - Totally Inadequate

OK, so these are just words that point to clearly defined sets of criteria (teachers' professional standards), but at least they describe points along the same scale, not four points on four different scales. 

Maybe we could offer different words to Ofsted or even shapes or symbols. Maybe we could deploy the cunning ways that primary school teachers attempt to hide ability with group names. 'Blue Group, Shakespeare Group, Sapphire, Rabbit, Trump, Square, HuffleDor, Dodecahedron etc.'. But whatever we call them, kids know. They know before you open your mouth, two weeks into term, after the initial assessment (because last year's data can't be right, can it?). And we know. We know what R.I. means.

A More Effective Grade

How about focussing on the process of getting better at what we do, not the final product or the snapshot during a 2-day visit? How about asking a teacher, a school, a MAT, a Local Authority (remember those) whether they are 'Very Effective', 'Effective' or 'Not Effective Yet' - and challenging them to provide video, audio and written evidence to support their self-assessment. Scary huh? As scary as being told you are 'Inadequate'?

Or how about using the inspiring work of National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter. A sigh of relief greets his Improver/Decliner model (or is it Improver/Deteriorater...Incliner/Decliner?): eight trajectories that a school might follow as it blossoms or dies and, helpfully, what you can do in each case to reverse the decline or develop the improvement. Carter describes a process not a product and we should too.

It's been said, quite correctly, that when it comes to the assessment of learning, you can't weigh a pig with a ruler. Equally so you can't grade a teacher with a Chimera.

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