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I’m not an Outstanding teacher, and this is why I don’t care. Personal reflections on leadership.

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I can’t remember when I stopped chasing the ‘Outstanding’ tag, but it certainly isn’t my priority.  I say this as someone who has been judged to be an outstanding teacher and am in receipt of accolades that suggest I may know a thing or two about teaching and learning.  The thing is though, there is a massive gap between the ‘thin’ Ofsted Outstanding and actually being outstanding.  These are not fully formed thoughts and I invite contributions and ideas.  They are personal reflections.

  • Many labour under the misconception that young people are the most important people in the school.  I believe that’s false.  Bear with me here.  To me, excellent teaching and learning is the most important thing in schools.  Teachers deliver this and recent research suggests that the quality of teachers is influential in raising achievement.  In other words, look after your teachers and the young people will have an excellent experience.  Of course, I also believe that that intrinsic motivation is key to maintaining awesome stuff happening in the classroom.  The graphic from gapingvoid below sums it up. Indeed, many conversations I’ve had with brilliant teachers, revolves around the notion that we do what we do because it excites and motivates us.  Having said this, external motivation is also key.  The problem is, most schools do this badly.  It can be patronising and come with an increased workload without any remuneration or change in status within the school. I won’t go in to it here, but I’ve used a range of strategies (some successful, others not so much) that have tried to tap into the external motivation.  Examples include hand written cards that have used quotes, helping to secure discounts off equipment and sending people on courses that provide opportunities for recognition.  Teachers are a mixed ability group of learners and it always amazes me that we treat teaching staff differently to children.  Of course, we’re professionals I hear you cry, we should just be happy with getting paid. What rubbish I would reply. Motivate your teaching staff and they will not only walk through fire for you but outcomes will get better. Learning will get better and young people will enjoy learning.


  • A vision linked to an Ofsted grade is rubbish. I want to do things to improve learning.  If everything we do is to please a 2 day visit from people in suits, then what’s the point?  Also, there is no point in having a vision if you have no idea how to achieve it. This is where staff emphasise their importance. It’s the teachers in your team that will get you there and often show you how.
  • I’m not anti-Ofsted.Having been through it 10 times in as many years, it’;s never been a negative experience for me.  Also, I have no problem in being held accountable for the public money that funds my salary and that I spend.  But, sustained and continued improvement is gained by ensuring that every lesson is the best that it can be.  That’s not outstanding by Ofsted standards, but does great teaching and learning go on in classrooms? Personally, I find it more important to develop other people than to only focus on my own teaching.  What does amuse me is the raft of courses and publication offering the Ofsted lesson or trick.  It’s about having many tools in the box and never one answer. It’s about getting to know your young people. Developing a culture linked to Ofsted fear doesn’t encourage confidence in teachers but a climate of fear where short-term-itis develops.  When the inspectors are gone, people stop marking because they think it’s not necessary.  What they forget is that one of the most effective ways to allow children to do really well is to mark books effectively.
  • Outstanding teaching is a label that is someone else’s agenda.  I don’t think that the outstanding criteria sets the bar high enough as it really does fail to take into account the longer term effect of teaching. There isn’t much within the outstanding criteria that I would disagree with.  For example, if you don’t mark books, how can you plan what to teach that group? How do you know where they are?  Teaching isn’t some mechanical process that churns out identical teaching.  There is a time and place for all sorts of teaching.  Priory Geography have many visits and they see all sorts of stuff going on, including children just learning complex processes and ideas with very little support from teachers.  It’s embedded and the skills are there.  But, it;s the simple actions that have the most impact.


  1. I was talking to a school governor last night about the focus on inspection that some schools go for and the harm it can cause with a focus on performing for external validation. I look forward to hearing more about the work you will be doing in the new place!

  2. How many outstanding schools literally 'stand out'? We are outstanding by (old) OFSTED criteria, aided by excellent data, which in turn is aided by 'value added' by home support which can't easily be quantified.
    I don't believe any school has consistently outstanding teaching throughout.
    I would ask all (outstanding) schools: what would you show to other schools that marks you out? What can others genuinely learn from you (that isn't just a factor of the children and families you inherit)?
    Those questions should be at the heart of any outstanding label.

    Good post btw!


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