A good week for an inspection?

This week could be a good week to be inspected by Ofsted. That is, if the lead inspector is Welsh.

Some time in the not too distant past my school was inspected at around the same time that the Six Nations Rugby tournament was on. Our lead inspector was Welsh and it was in one of those years that Wales won the Grand Slam.

I remember that at the start of the inspection we had proverbially shot ourselves in the proverbial foot. Although we knew we were doing a good job and had the evidence to prove it, we had toned the achievement section of our self-evaluation from ‘good’ down to ‘satisfactory’. It is not a wise idea to be self-deprecating in these documents. The first thing the lead inspector said was – “so as a leadership team you claim to have moved the school’s achievement from ‘good’ to ‘satisfactory’. I that’s true it would mean that you have inadequate leadership, so I must put you into a category.”

We spent the next two days proving that our achievement was actually ‘good’ and as a consequence came out with an overall outcome of ‘good’.

The point of me saying all that, was that our inspector had given us a chance to get right what we had got wrong in our self-evaluation. I have spoken to other school leaders who have told me that their inspectors would never have given them such a chance. Our inspector was fair to us, generous even, some might claim, in giving us that chance. Was this because he was a nice guy? Is it because all Welsh people are nice? Or was he in a more positive mood because Wales were winning in the rugby at that time? Or could it even be that actually most Ofsted inspectors are actually pretty fair people?

Looking back over the Ofsted inspections I’ve been through – eight in total – I have to say that most of my experiences have been pretty fair. I’ve been praised for good stuff and criticised for under-performance. There are one or two disappointments – like the time when I saw the inspector coming to watch my outdoor PE lesson, but it was a grizzly day – he just stopped in the corridor for a minute or two and then moved on. Or the time when Ofsted came a-calling in the penultimate week of the Summer term. I was teaching Year 6 at the time and my plans revolved around perfecting the Leaver’s Production. Neither the inspection or the Production went particularly well for me that year.

Back to the inspection in question and I happen to know that the lead inspector wrote up his report over the same weekend that Wales won the Grand Slam. He wrote words in his report such as ‘blistering pace’ to describe one particularly good lesson. His report was particularly effusive I thought – colourful even. Did this partly result from his positive mood caused by Wales winning? It could well have contributed something. Yet, he was also fair with his criticisms and gave us good guidance on how to improve the school.

We have to face facts – Ofsted inspectors are individuals not robots. They have real lives with ups and downs just like the rest of us. Some of them will even have favoured teaching styles that they prefer to see. Catch them on a bad week and you might have to work harder to convince them of the job you are doing. But the inspection system is still in the main doing a good job, a far better job than the other main accountability measure – league tables. All league tables do is make schools turn the assessment system into a game to be won or lost, rather than use it for individual students to measure their success.

If you get the call this week, good luck and remember to stay positive. I even hope your inspector is Welsh.

What is Number Ninja?

The ultimate 'Number Ninja' badge. Nobody has achieved this level yet.
The ultimate ‘Number Ninja’ badge. Nobody has achieved this level yet.

Number Ninja is essentially an assessment system for maths that uses badges to reward children for making progress. It’s for children in the Primary age range from 5-11 years of age.

I had become frustrated with some of the maths assessment we were using at my school. I felt they were either too slow or too lenient and they didn’t reflect what I consider to be the golden triangle of maths achievement – understanding, pace and accuracy. For example we were using a ‘99 club’ – several iterations of this exist. It was a good system, demanding recall of multiplication facts and division facts. Each class would do the test once a term and the children would be rewarded with a certificate in an end-of-term assembly, with a class prize going to the class that had obtained the most certificates. However the one we were using allowed 10 minutes for each test, which was just too long for my liking.

We also use a system called Incerts which calculates a national curriculum level for each child based on the number of statements ticked. I find this system both convenient and accurate, but in my opinion the current National Curriculum under-rewards children for mental mathematics skills.

A second problem was inconsistency across the school. While we had two main whole school systems, teachers were using a range of assessment systems within their own classes that didn’t continue beyond that year group. For example some people were using the excellent mental maths assessment developed by Wigan LEA some years ago (get it while you can – this website is no longer supported). Other people used their own times table systems that they had borrowed from other places or created themselves.

What I wanted to do was create a wider system that demanded more from the children in terms of pace but still maintained a whole school rewards system in a big termly assembly – this is useful to keep a high profile for mathematics.

So I did 4 things:

  1. I kept Incerts and 99 Club – there’s no point throwing away good stuff if it’s already working.
  2. I developed a new mental maths assessment system called ‘Grid Club’. This is much more pacey than 99 Club.
  3. I introduced Khan Academy. While I’m not overly impressed with the instructional videos on Khan Academy, I do really like the assessment system that goes alongside it.
  4. I created a spreadsheet to collect all the scores from the different systems and calculate an overall Number Ninja score – this is what I use to award the badges.

Here’s an example of what the Number Ninja spreadsheet looks like. It’s from the Year 3 class. Teachers enter the numbers in the coloured columns and the number on the far right is what the spreadsheet generates. It is colour coded to tell you what ‘Number Ninja’ level the child is on.

Number Ninja spreadsheet
Here’s what the spreadsheet looks like

Any questions or suggestions about Number Ninja – I would be grateful to hear them!