In November 2022 the music department at BCCS underwent a deep dive as part of a section 5 OFSTED inspection. Below is my reflection on the experience in my role as subject lead for music.
Outside of lesson planning and annotating seating plans, my preparation included ensuring my A4 curriculum file was up to date. While I was not directed to have anything of the sort by the school, I felt happier having the core documents to hand as a visual aid during the expected conversations. It was also a way for me to quickly recall data if it were needed. For me this file included: our curriculum map (a tabled summary of the topics and sequenced learning from year 7-13) It also included printed schemes of learning for the classes timetabled that day, data for exam groups, summative data of engagement in co-curricular music, lists of concerts/events, our department improvement plan and school improvement plan and finally an example of our key stage 3 assessment tracker. In reality I used only a few documents from it and none of it was directly asked for by the inspector.
8.15am saw my first meeting with the inspector begin. We engaged in conversations around the curriculum planning and outcomes. This was largely centred around key stage 3 at first, then building into the exam years. Most questions were probing how learning was sequenced and common misconceptions were addressed. The inspector asked me directly what she should expect to see in the timetabled lessons that day and about achievement and interventions for all SPIGs. She also drilled down into the department development plan and where our collective department conversations were at that point in time.
Half way through this initial session was morning registration. At this point we had four music ensembles rehearsing around the department so I boldly invited her to down tools for 15 minutes and visit the rehearsals with me. To my delight she agreed and it was a good chance to showcase the depth and breadth of community music making on offer at our school. I took the opportunity to signpost the participation and engagement of our students in co-curricular music from our PP students to our music specialists. I also introduced her to a couple of our visiting instrumental/vocal teachers and shared data on students having lessons with us and spoke about our ‘Trailblazer’ scheme.
Next came a rapid three hours of lesson observations and conversations. With me she visited year 12 with two different teachers (harmony and composition) year 10, year 11, two year 8 classes and one year 9. I had to leap back into teacher mode midway and teach year 10 and 11 as per my timetable which made my head spin. The inspector took out a small group of students from a number of these classes and held informal discussions with them. She chose the students herself on the most part, I noticed that for lessons with books she often took those with the scrappier written work out to join her. She also used our annotated seating plans carefully to choose who she spoke with. While I did not join them I could not have been more proud of the students for the way in which they conducted themselves.
While joining her to observe my team she frequently asked me what I thought about certain aspects of the lessons. She asked me to draw comparisons between teacher approaches and consistency in how the planned curriculum was being enacted. Knowing the stories within my colleagues classrooms was so useful here and also meant I could think on my feet and direct her to things I was trying to evidence in our conversations.
The final meeting of the day involved a discussion with the music teaching team without me. The inspector said it was a deliberate omission so she could chat to the team about how they understood and enacted the planned curriculum in practice. Discussing this afterwards as a team it seems a lot of the questions were similar to those I had at the start of the day, she was checking the thread of planning and implementation ran all the way through the department.
In summary I feel like I had a positive, if exhausting, experience. The conversations were intelligent and full of energy. While the inspector was not a music specialist she was very receptive and engaged in what I had to say and treated me as expert in my field. For that I am thankful, but there was still a lot of challenge there. She did arrive with a number of misconceptions, I had to think on my feet and quickly signpost her to evidence my points. Knowing the classes, teachers and curriculum was absolutely invaluable here.
On the whole her questions were thoughtful and fair. She mostly challenged the right things to move the department on further. I have to say the opportunity to see the curriculum and department through new and critical eyes was a thought provoking experience. There was a keen focus on how the curriculum was enacted in real life from it’s initial planning/paperwork and checking the consistency of this across all the classes.
There is lots to think about now I’ve had time to process the experience. Good luck if you have one coming up. For what it’s worth my advice would be to know your students and do not be afraid to take the power to drive the important conversations. And unlike me don’t forget to take yourself a coffee/lunch break during the day, you will be grateful of the energy boost!
For further conversations on anything here feel free to start them on Twitter @mrsgleedmusic or via email at email@example.com