Clint Eastwood rides into town and goes into the saloon. He’s been told the whole place needs a good shake up. Several minutes later he leaves, guns smoking, and rides off into the sunset leaving behind a bar where there the staff who haven’t been sacked or shot are demoralized and wondering why they ever went into the saloon - keeping business in the first place.
Down the road, a professional and committed lady bar owner is taking her staff through what they need to do to be even better at their job. She is firm but human, making her best bar staff feel great about what they do yet want to be even better and helping those who are less good raise their game. Throughout the process she keeps the whole staff focused on core bar keeping principles that remind everyone why working in a saloon is the best job in the whole world.
And so, in a not too far-fetched metaphor of a nutshell, there you have the state of school inspection in the UK today.
On the one hand you have a gung ho approach driven by the ‘fact’ that if you scratch the surface of any teacher you will find a complacent slacker who needs his arse kicked in order to do a half-decent job for those poor children not lucky enough to get an independent education. On the other, you have people like Jackie Beere who has spent her life in schools at all levels of the system, who is one of the UK’s most respected and innovative educational pioneers and who knows that education is not about (although does involve) grades and league tables but that improving education is about helping teachers plan lessons that genuinely engage learners in the process of learning as well as developing skills and competencies that will help them thrive in the 21st century workplace.
Which is where this book comes in
Building on the phenomenal success of her The Perfect Ofsted Lesson book for the Independent Thinking Press, The Perfect Ofsted Inspection takes the reader simply but assertively through all that any school needs to do in order to present themselves in the best possible light next time Clint and his team of gunslingers ride into town.
But this is not a book about simply doing well in an Ofsted inspection. Jackie’s own brand of school improvement runs far deeper than mere window dressing. What’s more, surprising though it may seem at first glance, the new Ofsted framework and Jackie’s passion for genuine quality in educational experience do converge nicely. Developing independent learning, moving away – well away – from an over-reliance on ‘chalk and talk’ lessons, providing opportunities for developing skills and competencies, genuinely engaging learners in their own learning, planning for and measuring progress, using assessment and data as tools to support learning, working at an emotional as well as intellectual level – all of these have been staples in Jackie’s work for many years. Nice now of Ofsted to catch up.
Quality teaching and learning in the classroom on its own does not an ‘outstanding school’ make however. Schools still regularly let themselves down at leadership level. This is why Jackie’s new book behaves like the love child of an authoritative guide and an expert coach standing there with a simple checklist and a firm but caring face to ensure that all school leaders – from the Head and governors to the heads of department and middle leaders – get the basics right. Basics that are relevant whatever type of school you are and whether you are about to be on the receiving end of a visit from Clint or not.
Education is a political football and it is a political game as old as the hills to decry something publically in order to achieve the leverage with the public and the press to make significant (often self-serving and ideological) changes. It’s the same with the National Health Service. To ride into town all guns blazing under a banner of ‘making things better’ is cheap, easy leadership, whether you are the Secretary of State for Education, the head of Ofsted, the executive director an Academy chain or a head teacher. To walk purposefully into town with a genuine desire to introduce lasting improvements firmly and professionally that bring the best out of all hard-working and committed staff is something that takes a much greater degree of professionalism and skill. We are all fortunate that Jackie Beere is able to show us this alternative approach to improvement before all the saloon keepers give up, pack up and head for the hills.
Valentine’s Day 2012