Review by Dan Morrow

CEO, Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust

11 Dec 2021, 5:00


Dan Morrow’s blogs of the week, 6 December 2021

Dear national director of Ofsted


A group initially set up to provide pastoral support and care during the pandemic, Headrest has pivoted to an advocacy role due to the consistent messages it is hearing from leaders regarding Ofsted. Here, in an open letter to its national director, the team details a case where a school was refused deferral despite its headteacher needing to attend a funeral.

The letter goes on to exemplify why a claim that 90 per cent are currently supportive of inspection is at best misleading, with myriad examples of the stress and anxiety wrought by the current inspection regime during an ongoing pandemic.

The piece finishes with a sentiment many of us readily identify with: “In October we felt the situation was becoming serious; it is now grave.” It’s beginning to look a lot like last Christmas.

Grandmothers sucking eggs, or the next Big Thing?


Zoe Enser’s ability to present current thinking in a balanced and reflective manner is increasingly rare in our polarised times. Here, she looks at controversial educationalist Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion 3.0. While in agreement with a number of the book’s principles and recommendations, she wisely unpicks how the implementation of such strategies needs to be carefully thought out.

She argues that treating Lemov’s concepts as quick fixes could detract from subject fidelity as well as teacher agency. Schools and teachers, she says, should take a discerning and bespoke approach to adoption, rather than allow these techniques to become a prescriptive straitjacket.

Thought-provoking as ever, it’s refreshing to read an author so adept at removing the ego and posturing out of what are important discussions.

The interconnected curriculum


This from Emma Turner is an incredibly thoughtful proposition on the importance of sustaining rich cross-disciplinary connections rather than allowing subjects to become silos, as the education inspection framework does.

You won’t find any arguments here for a topic-based approach, though. On the contrary, Turner embraces the power of subject knowledge while rejecting the application within many primary settings of treating individual subjects as islands. Teaching each subject as a brick doesn’t help pupils build a house.

Citing Furst, she presents interconnectivity as intrinsic to learning and setting firm foundations for progression rather than a tokenistic afterthought. Turner then goes on to consider the three elements of interconnected thinking, developing these to expose current expectations as potentially reductive, especially in primaries. Just looking to booklets, knowledge organisers and the like without a thoughtful exposition of interdisciplinary schema, she warns, will not create the complex web of understanding needed by our young learners.

“Excellence in primary practice is underpinned by the creation of rich and deep understanding, not just the shallow replication and remembering of curriculum subjects,” she concludes. Amen to that.

Quality assurance through lesson evaluation


In this excellent post, Jonathan Mountstevens paints a grim picture of the outcomes of evaluating teacher performance through lesson observation. Unavoidable variation and the creation of winners and losers, he posits, are conducive to school cultures that lead many to exit the profession. With two simple questions, Mountstevens completely unpicks this cherished educational practice: can they be done accurately?; and are the consequences desirable?

Referencing a study by Strong and others that showed observation is a poor predictor of pupil performance (taken here as a proxy for learning), he shows how judgment (and therefore bias) is entrenched in this form of quality assurance, resulting in a misguided and counter-productive evaluative mindset. And even if accuracy could somehow be improved, Mountstevens debunks the idea that the outcomes would be any more desirable.

So what to do? Well, this wouldn’t be a Mountstevens blog without compelling concrete solutions and an infectious professional optimism. His answer is to ground quality assurance within formative approaches, codified within a coaching culture that prioritises development over judgment and professionalism over compliance. Acknowledging that this is no easy, quick fix, his redefinition of the approach as ‘quality nurture’ rather than quality assurance is the phrasing that I didn’t know I was looking for, but can’t wait to use.

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