“The lesson would have been outstanding, but...”
Every observation recently has been a déjà vu where I cannot escape these seven dreaded words! I have become stuck in some sort of “good with outstanding features” rut.
Maybe I should get “Good with Outstanding features” tattooed across my forehead? Or carry a sign that reads: “This teacher is capable of planning really good lessons but I am afraid they just lack that special something...”
Don’t get me wrong, as an NQT I am thrilled to be judged as “good”. While I am aware that there are many NQTs who are judged outstanding, I believe that the only route to becoming a truly outstanding practitioner is through long-term experience and hard graft.
What I find truly frustrating is the feeling that I am so close to achieving something, but end up missing it every time.
Every observation I feel like I am teetering on a precipice where I somehow manage to dodge falling head-first into a deep pit of satisfactory, but am incapable of making the impossible leap to outstanding.
We all had observations in our PGCE year. We all know the drill. But last year, for me, there was little to no focus on assigning a “grade” to your lesson; feedback was all formative. I liked this; it was refreshing and gave me something to work with. Of course I still receive this formative element, but the new focus on summative grading is beginning to make me feel like a sailor on Treasure Island without a map. I know the treasure is within reach, but how do I get there?
I am beginning to wonder whether I even know what “outstanding” looks like. This is certainly not due to lack of training on the topic. I have been blessed with a wealth of training sessions explaining the Ofsted criteria, I have scoured many an article on how to go from good to outstanding, and I have gleaned no end of tips and tricks of the trade from colleagues. Despite all of this, the practical, on-the-ground reality of how to be outstanding seems to be intangible to me.
A part of me wants to question the reliability of the grading system. So much is surely down to each observer’s subjective judgement? Yes, I am aware that there is a delightfully constructed grid defining the concepts of good and outstanding, providing invaluable guidance for all the leadership team on how to categorise their staff into one box or another.
But might one person’s “exceptional progress” be another person’s “very good progress”? And how can someone who does not know my class even judge whether the progress my pupils are making is exceptional or not?
After having had it rammed down my throat during my training that different individuals enjoy learning in different ways, how am I to be sure on the day Ofsted comes knocking that the five minutes of time the observer is in the room my class is catering to their auditory, visual or kinaesthetic preference?
The cynical part of me thinks that the road to outstanding may all just be a box-ticking exercise; a game to be played by cryptic rules. The more you understand how the rules of the game work, the better you become at playing it.
All I know is that it seems an impossible feat for me to breach the gap between “good with outstanding features” and “outstanding”.
But then perhaps I am overthinking things. I know the progress my pupils are making, the relationship I have with them, and the way they engage with my lessons on a day-to-day basis.
What’s in a grade, anyway?
Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.