Outstanding?

When I first started this blog back in January 2007 I decided to focus it initially on my experiences of moving from teaching in England to teaching in Scotland. Obviously much has changed since then, but I do still keep a wee eye on what is happening down South and occasionally ponder the differences. Now, before I go any further I’m not one of those who claims everything is better in Scotland. I certainly enjoy living and working in Scotland (otherwise I wouldn’t be here!) but there were many things I thought England were doing better when I moved up and I’m sure this is still the case. They are surprisingly different systems; and better in different ways at different times in different places.

Having said this, I must admit to being a little concerned about the rise of the word ‘outstanding’ in England as applied to schools, teachers and lessons. It’s been a while now, but I don’t remember it being as part of the lexicon of teaching when I worked in England as it is now. Frustratingly, however, I’m not entirely sure what it is that’s even making me uncomfortable – which makes me very hesitant about writing this post. To try and help me out I decided to look up what it means in the context of a lesson. Here’s what I found from a 2011 Ofsted document on the TES website:

The quality of teaching and the use of assessment to support learning: Outstanding (1)
Teaching is at least good and much is outstanding, with the result that the pupils are making exceptional progress. It is highly effective in inspiring pupils and ensuring that they learn extremely well. Excellent subject knowledge is applied consistently to challenge and inspire pupils. Resources, including new technology, make a marked contribution to the quality of learning, as does the precisely targeted support provided by other adults. Teachers and other adults are acutely aware of their pupils’ capabilities and of their prior learning and understanding, and plan very effectively to build on these. Marking and dialogue between teachers, other adults and pupils are consistently of a very high quality. Pupils understand in detail how to improve their work and are consistently supported in doing so. Teachers systematically and effectively check pupils’ understanding throughout lessons, anticipating where they may need to intervene and doing so with striking impact on the quality of learning.
The evaluation schedule for schools, Ofsted, 2011

Apart from a few of the details and perhaps the tone, this isn’t wildly different from the equivalent in Scotland – the level 5 illustration for Quality Indicator 5.2 ‘Teaching for Effective Learning’ in How Good is Our School:

✪ Building on our shared values, we create a stimulating learning climate using skilful and well-paced teaching and learning approaches. Learners’ experiences are well matched to their needs and sustain their motivation and attention. We develop learners’ abilities to be curious and creative and to think critically. Tasks and activities in our classes and home-learning activities are well planned and involve learners as effective contributors, working independently and with others cooperatively in solving problems. We make full and effective use of ICT during teaching and learning.
✪ We share the purposes of lessons with learners. Learners know what they need to do to improve and to become successful. Our explanations and instructions are clear and build on previous learning and real-life experiences. We ensure that learners have opportunities to take responsibility for aspects of their own learning and their relationships with others. Learners enjoy their experiences and make progress in their skills as learners. They are engaged in learning and aware of themselves as learners. We use feedback effectively to promote learning.
✪ Our teaching fully involves learners and encourages them to express views and ask questions. We use skilled questioning and discussion to stimulate learners’ interest, make them think and build their confidence. We value, encourage and build upon learners’ responses.
✪ In lessons, we make sound judgements and respond quickly to ensure that our teaching meets the needs of individuals and provides appropriate support and challenge. We identify and address weaknesses in learners’ knowledge and skills.
How Good is Our School, HMIE, 2007

Although the above is a level 5 description, it is actually a 6-point scale, with level 6 being “outstanding or sector leading”.

So given the overlap in the actual standard, what is it that’s actually different? Well as far as I’m aware I’ve never encountered a teacher in Scotland who would describe themselves, or be described as, a ‘level 6′ teacher or as having taught a ‘level 6′ lesson in the same way as the word seems to be used in England to refer directly to the Ofsted grade descriptor. I’m not necessarily arguing that one approach is better than the other, but the difference does strike me as interesting.

Perhaps it is just the unfamiliarity with the approach in England which makes me feel concerned? Maybe it is better for teachers to be more familiar with their quality framework than perhaps teachers in Scotland are? Or perhaps it is concerning for teachers to be classified as ‘outstanding’ as it may lead to complacency and/or division?

I’d love to know what you think? Especially if you teach in England.