NQT Special: Starting the journey to outstanding


Every NQT aspires to become an outstanding teacher, but where does this journey start and how should you approach the challenge. As part of SecEd's NQT special edition, Dorothy Lepkowska asks some experts for their advice.

Getting through the induction year and coming out the other side with your energy and enthusiasm intact is an achievement of which you should be proud.

But how do you build on everything you have learned in your training year and start the journey to becoming an outstanding teacher?

It is a question that not just individual teachers are asking themselves – whole schools are grappling with the conundrum of what makes their learning environment outstanding. And all the more so since changes to the Ofsted inspections framework mean that no school can now be judged outstanding overall, unless the quality of teaching is also rated as outstanding.

“One of the main considerations is consistency – trying to be consistently good and not necessarily trying to be outstanding, as defined by Ofsted,” explained Richard Johnston, an induction tutor at Westlakes Academy in Cumbria.

“It may be a fantastic aspiration but it is actually very difficult in reality. What you need to try to do is to make sure your lessons are good with outstanding features.”

Mr Johnston explained that one of the characteristics of any outstanding lessons is ensuring that progress is demonstrable throughout; ensuring pupils are on task and making progress and that they understand this during each and every lesson.

He continued: “Outstanding lessons are those where it is objective-led and where outcomes are clear and set against assessment criteria. It is sustaining those on a regular basis that is difficult. Constantly matching what they are doing against the assessment criteria and how closely you have met that or gone beyond it is key.

“Assessment is very important and not just by the teacher, but also through peer-assessment and young people discussing their progress with each other and making suggestions about how good something was and how it can be made better and acting on it.”

An outstanding lesson will have a set of objectives and engaging activities that keep students on track. But it also requires the teacher to be flexible.

“I have seen top class teachers with less detailed lesson plans delivering fantastic lessons,” Mr Johnston added. “You can’t always make time for everything you have planned and it is about knowing what to leave in and what to take out. You also have to be flexible enough to change direction in the lessons, depending on the reaction of the students and what happens in the class.

“There also has to be an element of differentiation for the different groups of children in the class. Some may need to be supported to reach their objectives and others need to be pushed.”

NQTs also need to observe more experienced colleagues, he stressed: “There is nothing more powerful than seeing other techniques for 15 to 20 minutes and seeing what someone else is doing.

“You know when you have seen an outstanding lesson and all the elements coming together because there is a buzz in the classroom – you can actually feel it and all the kids are engaged. It is tangible.”

Andrea Wood, deputy head in charge of professional development at Newstead Wood School in Bromley, told SecEd that teachers, at whatever stage in their careers, need to keep reflecting and self-evaluating on their practice. It is something many forget to do.

She explained: “Teachers also need to build relationships with their classes on a regular basis as this is one of the most important ways of understanding them, learning more about them and tailoring your lessons to what they need,” she said.

“Saying hello in the corridor, for example, or noticing that they have excelled at something helps to build those relationships and this is reflected in their levels of engagement and the type of environment you create in lessons.”

Another tip is not to talk too much during the lessons: “Many teachers believe talking is a way of controlling the class, but if you are talking it means the pupils are not. Lot of teachers get scared of the noise pupils are making because it may look like they’re not engaged when this isn’t necessarily the case.”

Effective feedback is also important: “Make sure you give comments rather than grades or levels that they don’t understand, and ask them to feedback to your feedback.”

Justine McNeillie, programme co-ordinator for Ofsted and self-evaluation at SSAT, and an inspector herself, said that, contrary to popular belief among teachers, inspectors had no preferred style of teaching.

“The expectation now is that the school knows best about what works for its pupils and the bottom line is that inspectors are looking for ‘rapid and sustained progress’ over time,” she said. 

“Inspectors want to see that pupils are learning consistently well and that what the teacher is doing is having a positive impact on learning. 

“It is difficult to provide a recipe of what is an outstanding lesson because the same lesson and activities delivered by different teachers would look different, and what might become outstanding for one will not be so for another. The expectation previously was that teachers might be all-singing and all-dancing, but now grades are sharply focused on pupils’ progress.”

One of the key aspects of making teaching outstanding was knowing about the pupils – their starting grade, expected and attainment grades, as well as aspirational target grades, so they are able to measure progress effectively.

“They should also know about the grouping to which pupils are attached. For example, if they are eligible for Pupil Premium funding, or do they have special educational needs or a disability, or are they pupils with English as a second language?

“It would also help if they knew individual pupils’ learning characteristics and any issues relating to their learning and personal lives.

“They need to use this data effectively to plan effective learning activities that will lead to at least good progress for all. If I was observing a lesson and four-fifths of the pupils were making progress, but a small proportion were not because the lesson wasn’t planned to suit them too, then that would not be an outstanding lesson.

“So, the teacher needs to use planned differentiation strategies to ensure everyone makes the best level of progress. They need to use the data to decide what the learning outcomes need to be and then plan the appropriate activities that will engage all of the pupils.”

Other issues teachers should consider are timing, and verbal checking throughout the lesson of the whole class and individuals, so it is inclusive of all pupils. 

Teachers must make sure they are engaging pupils and enthusing learning by engendering a “thirst for knowledge and love of learning”. Teachers should also be imparting “subject knowledge authoritatively”, according to the Ofsted framework.

Ms McNeillie continued: “They also need to make sure that skills are developed in terms of reading, writing communication and maths – skills which are effectively planned for and developed across all subjects – so that those wider skills are being developed around subject-specific skills.

“Highly effective and regular marking ensures that all pupils know how well they are doing and what they need to do in order to make rapid and sustained progress. Best practice marking is when teachers involve the students in dialogue so that they are not just giving a grade and bland comments such as ‘good but provide more detail’. 

“A more helpful approach would be a comment such as, ‘good inclusion of the causes of the First World War, but which of your points can be linked together to show the interaction between them?’ This requires the pupil to provide an answer underneath the teacher comment by responding.”

Teachers still in their first three years of teaching should not expect inspectors to be lenient because of their relative inexperience – they can be more effective practitioners than colleagues who are older and have been doing the job longer. Some of the best teachers are those who are in the early stages of their career when they are driven by their vocation.

“However, regardless of whether they’ve been teaching two or 20 years, they are still standing in front of the pupils and everyone is judged at the same level,” Ms McNeillie added. “It is up to school leaders to ensure that the quality of teaching by all teachers is consistently as high as possible. 

“Observation does not exist just to measure pedagogical skills, but largely (to see) how they can be improved.

“Inspectors will not expect to see a written lesson plan but of course it is helpful to provide one because it shows what the teacher had planned to do before they arrived in the room, and what they planned to do after they had left. It will also show how well they have used the data they have about pupils in planning the lesson and how well they are differentiating activities to suit the pupils in the class. 

“It is also helpful to have a class context sheet which has all the data to hand, including pupils’ learning characteristics and progress information. This is an up-to-date document which is updated every half-term and will be useful for inspectors to have. It will also show intended learning outcomes and how differentiation is being used.”

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.

Further information
The SSAT Guide to Ofsted Success, written by Justine McNeillie, is available from setra@ssatuk.co.uk
NQT Special Edition Download
On November 28, 2013, SecEd published in partnership with the NASUWT, eight pages of best practice and advisory articles aimed at supporting NQTs and young teachers. Ranging from behaviour and CPD to SEN and pedagogy, the articles offer valuable, practical advice and are freely available. You can read them in the best practice and blog sections of this website. Or you can download the free eight-page PDF at http://bit.ly/1aYJWUo



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