A science teacher and the chase for the elusive outstanding lesson

We had Ofsted in this week – the visit was a monitoring visit of which you get plenty when you are in special measures.  As part of this inspection I was observed teaching, as were all the other staff in my school.

I tweaked the lesson plan the night before and threw in just about everything I could.  The lesson came and lady luck was on my side.  The students were very well behaved, engaged, knew their targets and wanted to move on, and so on.

I had plenty of practical using lung volume bags, pulse oxygen meters and peak flow meters.  Students worked hard during the 100 minute lesson (of which about a half was observed) and left all having made progress.  They used all the correct terminology, they talked about the results from the practical in relation to medical conditions and so on.  It was one of those lessons where you think it couldn’t have gone any better.

I arrived for my feedback feeling fairly confident at the end of the day, and I sat there listening to a huge string of positive comments.  Being an advocate of delivering feedback using “the poo sandwich” (something good, something bad, and something good) I sat there waiting for the but…  It didn’t come and she told me it was a good lesson.

Whilst it is a relief to deliver a very good lesson I asked why it wasn’t outstanding.  I felt the pace had been a tad slower than I would have liked through the practical but she disagreed, it was fine.  The HMI went over her lesson notes several times and all she could suggest is that she left the lesson before learning was embedded.  There were no suggestions for ways to improve my lesson at all.

I’m a fan of practical activities for students like mine who have multiple learning difficulties (when I say practical activities I include anything that doesn’t including writing words in a book!).  It seems that unless you deliver practical work in short bursts (to embed the learning before moving on to the next burst) or you the inspector arrives at the end of the practical work that they are unlikely to see an outstanding lesson.

Will this change my practice during Ofsted inspections? Perhaps – I will still put practical activities in but I will hammer away at embedding the learning as the inspector watches.  It’s a bit like taking your driving test and making exaggerated looks in the rear view mirror so the examiner knows you are doing it.

Going through this does make me think that the lesson observation system might be flawed, at the same time as senior academic says the same.

Science teachers – be careful if you do practical work during your observed lesson!

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