In many schools, scrutiny has become a term that everyone is now very familiar with. This will often take the form of looking through student books, wandering through lessons, reviewing lesson planning, and carrying out student surveys. These are applied in a variety of different ways and usually carried out by the Senior Leadership Team or a Head of Department. Sometimes a work scrutiny is carried out collaboratively in a department meeting, sharing each others’ books and learning good practice. This was always the most effective approach in my view.
A very brief look at the journey that I experienced:
- 9 years ago: start at first school. Occasional look at books from Head of Physics.
- 4 years ago: same school. Big worry that our Teaching and Learning had slipped in previous years. Weekly “we’re going to get an Ofsted 4” ‘Quality Assurance’ covering those activities above (except lesson planning reviews). SLT dictation as to which QA Task was to take place, Head of Department to lead. Some SLT-led scrutiny.
- From then on until September of this year: same school. SLT require 6 QA Tasks per year with choice of tasks at Head of Department discretion depending on what the areas for development are, or what issues have arisen.
- Now: new school. Complete autonomy.
It is weirdly scary going from relatively tight control to complete autonomy on this. From a position where you had to do them as you were required to, using my judgement with choice of task that is most appropriate, to now having free reign over type of task and…well, whether to carry out a task at all.
Carrying out a task, and it being an effective use of time with colleagues learning from the outcomes, can be a bit of a dilemma when you are in a school where assuring quality is not some ingrained part of the culture. Staff are obviously observed during the year, and we have a Performance Management process that runs alongside that, but there is no stringent required departmental cycle of work scrutiny, learning walk and the like. They do come up in conversation as something worth doing, but it is a very different ball game to what I have become accustomed to. It certainly has given me the opportunity and the time to reflect on the purpose and the effectiveness of these tasks.
I am conflicted. In one direction I feel it a necessary component for helping spread a vision of teaching and learning and maintaining high standards; e.g. a department might be developing and maintaining a system of high quality feedback to students in their books, or departmental CPD could have a focus on approaches to questioning and then watching these being used in lessons. It can help to enable an open-door culture by reducing the stress of being observed as it is more of a normal experience. In the other direction, our colleagues are employed at the school to do the excellent job that they do and we can trust them to do so. We all have an obligation to maintain high professional standards of work, and provided there are no signs of any issues – complaints from students or parents, poor assessment results – then is there really a need to be conducting a scrutiny?
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