Here’s the thing. I was a bit taken aback by what I thought were rather strong remarks to an innocent Tweet remarking that we had experienced a good Mocksted at my school. I’m not sure that anyone can comment on the quality – or veracity – of a person’s lived experience. Nor am I sure that it’s OK to tell someone they should not claim a process they have experienced is good. It seems to me that a far more interesting and useful response would have been to ask why our experience had been good. So I’m going to imagine I was asked that question.
We have had three Mocksteds – there would have been four but we had real Ofsted instead! The whole Mocksted thing was decided upon by the coalition that is our secondary heads with the idea that it would:
• Help schools be Ofsted ready
• Give schools an insight into how they might be judged, the questions they might be asked
• Point out any areas where we might be under-prepared
The Mocksteds would be conducted by a lead – sometimes an HMI – a practising Ofsted Inspector and one of the secondary heads as a development activity.
The first round proved controversial with many teachers and schools being given less than complimentary judgements leading to one school pulling out of the whole process. I don’t know what went on in those schools but I suspect they played it like the real deal, had not fully appreciated the toughened new inspection schedule and so the judgements floored them.
In our school, the Head presented the Mocksted as an opportunity to get ourselves ready for the imminent Ofsted inspection and asked for volunteers prepared to have their lessons observed. Amazingly, people volunteered. In addition, the Mocksted team ran interviews with groups of teacher who might be involved with real Ofsted and spent time with SLT looking at their area of responsibility. It worked quite well with a full range of judgements on the lessons observed – some leading to happy faces and some leading to upset.
My area of responsibility is assessment and our data man and I had a really useful conversation with one of the team who looked at what we were doing and, more usefully, told us about what the best schools were doing. This is where the realisation of the importance of the changing focus from attainment to progress dawned and where we understood how we should be using the transition matrices. We made some immediate changes to our practice and, more critically, our analyses.
Forward to Mocksted round 2 in late summer. Again, observations were through volunteering and again people did just that. Meetings took place judgements were made and the school was held to be in better shape than first time round. The cynical may well say that it’s in the interests of the Mocksted team to ensure this is so. And they may be right. Our data man and I had a follow up session and were credited with taking notice of the advice given last time and making significant, important changes. The general feedback was that the school had improved from the first Mocksted and the changes in assessment came in for special mention.
Not long after that in September of last year, real Ofsted landed. It was clear that the Mocksted experiences had helped staff to prepare for the real thing and to work together for a good outcome. For example, a senior member of staff went to chat to a nervous head of faculty scheduled for a meeting with Ofsted to ensure they were calm and knew what sorts of things they might say. I walked past an office and saw a trio of young teachers due to meet Ofsted crouched on the floor and scribbling frantically as they were coached by more experienced staff in what they were likely to be asked and how they might respond.
Would these things have happened without the Mocksteds? Possibly. Like many things in education it is not possible to pinpoint one thing that makes the difference or has the impact. The lead Inspector came to see what assessment was up to and gave us a clean bill of health – in fact, he said we were in front of the game. That is directly attributable to Mocksted.
What I think the Mocksteds did, though, was to prepare the staff by making inspection more “ordinary”.
So, fast forward to this week’s Mocksted. The focus was agreed as looking at the work of the teaching and learning forum to assess its impact. This is a group set up by a relatively new, fantastic, Assistant Head who is passionate about teaching and learning and has increased English results by 20% in two years. Again, the members of the forum are volunteers – with maybe a bit of arm twisting – and the aim is to enable teachers to improve their practice by working together and learning from each other. They work in triads or quads on an agreed focus linked to school improvement priorities and observe each other putting it in to practice. It has no link whatsoever to Performance Management or PRP and there is no reporting back to anyone other than within the forum’s meeting slot.
So Mocksted round three consisted of members of the forum volunteering to be observed and a look at the work of our recently appointed Director of Literacy. And there were some lovely things that came out of it. A young teacher whose lesson had been deemed inadequate last time round secured a sound good and was absolutely thrilled. Most teaching was deemed securely good and 4 lessons were outstanding – 3 in one faculty (OK, it was English!)– while one was held to be inadequate. And yes, this did cause some upset.
The literacy work was given the thumbs up and credited with achieving a great deal in a short period of time.The school was held to have made improvements since the real Ofsted visit, given a pat on the back and some things to think about.
Is it a perfect process? Of course not. Those who were deemed less than good were disappointed and distressed but arguably it’s better for that to happen at Mocksted than real Ofsted. Do we need two of these a year every year? I don’t think so – there is such a thing as overkill.
As far as I can work out from what’s posted on Twitter, we have used the process very differently from what is common in other schools. We are involving ourselves in it to use it for our own ends and on our own terms rather than as a blunt instrument to beat our staff with – we don’t really go in for that sort of thing in our school. Ofsted deemed us good – and not far off outstanding – matching our own self-evaluation and everyone, Mocksted, Ofsted and an assortment of visitors cannot speak too highly of our pupils.
The difference, it seems to me, is that our Head is a people person who seeks to encourage, persuade, guide and include. He – and we, the SLT – don’t do things to the staff but rather with them and it seems to work.