I am not a believer in the value of ‘Mocksteads’. A bit like graded lesson observations, someone coming in from outside can only ever see a snapshot of what is happening in a school and it’s very difficult to make a helpful general judgement about how good a school is. Mocksteads can also create unnecessary stress and workload for teachers.
Over the last few months we have been working in a new Learning Partnership with a group of local schools. We aim to spend as much of our time as possible focussing on improving teaching and raising standards, and to this end decided that we would help each other by taking a close look at what actually goes on in each
school. What I didn’t want was anyone coming into the school and telling us what Ofsted grade they thought we would get.
As a group, we therefore designed a process that we thought would be helpful for the school, and also helpful for the people carrying out the review. The school being reviewed took the lead in deciding what should be looked at, what activities would be undertaken, and how long the review should take.
I decided that I wanted two of the other headteachers in the Partnership to spend their time with us looking at a sample of children’s books, walking around the school visiting every class, and going through our self evaluation paperwork. I wanted them to talk to the children, and to try to answer the question ‘If you took over as headteacher here tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?’
We told our teachers to carry on as normal and not to prepare anything extra – and they all took us at our word. I asked them at our staff meeting two days after the review if they had felt worried or stressed about it, and they all said they hadn’t. One teacher even said he had forgotten it was happening until we walked through his classroom door.
At the end of the morning our reviewers were able to give us some clear suggestions for improvement that we would not have come up with on our own. They made excellent use of their own experience, and their understanding of the strengths of their own schools.
We were left with some good ideas and a written summary which will serve as the basis for our next headteachers report. They were frank, rigorous and honest, and it was a very positive experience. The key things that made it so useful were:
- We took the lead in setting up the way the review worked, and decided when it was to be carried out
- Teachers were not putting on a show or preparing anything extra
- The reviewers were experienced headteachers who both lead very good schools
- I know we have things in our school that we can improve, and I wanted the reviewers to help me clarify what we need to do next
- We received a written report outlining strengths and things to work on
- We have scheduled a follow-up visit to check that actions have been taken, and that these have had the desired impact
I am really pleased that we decided to take part in this process, and that we could shape the review to meet the needs of our school.