Posted by: markhowell101 | June 14, 2012

Perspectives of a geographer recently observed by OFSTED

Whilst this perspective will offer nothing to senior members of staff within a school I thought I would offer a brief perspective on my recent OFSTED inspection at ordinary geography teacher in classroom level. Whilst this will clearly be out of date in not very long I thought that it might offer people one or two ideas if you happen to have an inspection in the not too distant future.

As a bit of background, I was observed in a tandem observation by both the head and the HMI lead inspector. It was one of 4 such observations done across the school in order to standardise and verify the judgements made by the school. The lesson itself was a revision session for year 11’s as I had finished teaching the course and was therefore in the fortunate position that I could get away with teaching anything and did not have to really worry about sequence as the lesson could be a one off targeting revision on a specific topic from any point in the last 2 years. The group in question vary in target grades from D to A* but in general are two thirds B or above candidates. It was a very hot afternoon in the world’s hottest classroom and my best efforts to justify a practical lesson based on the idea of what it would be like to live and work in a desert fell on deaf ears.

The lesson I delivered in the end was a recap on development indicators with a focus on mapping development and how to interpret such maps, something some of my students had struggled with in some prior past papers. On the OCR B course it seems that questions on this subject ion the exam may focus on simple interpretation but may go as far as students suggesting problems with or benefits of a given development map.

The lesson began with a simple development indicator starter. Students given a list of a few indicators and asked to interpret their meaning and what we can learn from each. This was of course differentiated with weaker students interpreting mostly conventional ones (GDP per capita, life expectancy etc) whilst the more able were given more abstract and complex ones (TV’s per 1000 etc). They were given 5 minutes to interpret these and we then had a brief discussion about the use of such statistics. It was during this discussion, around 7 minutes into the lesson that the observer came in and headed to the back of the lesson. I provided her with the seating plan, context sheet etc and took the opportunity at the end of the discussion to recap the learning objectives and suggest that we had already achieved the first one (To be able to interpret a range of development indicators and maps – C grade). The other 2 objectives were  set at B grade (To explain the problems and benefits of using certain indicators and maps) and at A/A* (To  be able to critically evaluate  the validity of certain development maps), although I took this opportunity to suggest to students that at the very top end the ability to offer critique on some development maps was beyond GCSE level and therefore would allow all students within the group to work beyond target.

I moved on to the main task in which each table was given 4 development map which they had to interpret. They were to identify areas of high and low development on the map and then offer some uses and problems with their maps. The students were in mixed ability groups of 4 and whilst they were told to work together on the task each student was to take ownership of the map they had been given. During feedback they would have to feedback on their map if their table was selected. I felt that this ensured that all students participated in the activity rather than just 2 or 3 within the group doing all the work. It also meant that I could allocate maps based on ability, giving the least able on each table a straightforward map (perhaps of GDP per capita or the HDI) and the more able a more complex or abstract map (like the happy planet index map or the Facebook connection map shown below). Students were given some basic information about what the map showed but were generally left to figure that out for them selves.

Students were given around 10 – 15 minutes to complete this task during which time I circulate as did the head and the HMI. The HMI also spoke to me regarding my rational for the lesson, why had I given certain student certain maps etc.

A discussion then followed where I directed certain table to feed back about their maps. Others were encouraged to contribute or challenge the views put across. This discussion lasted around 10 minutes.

Finally students were given some exam style questions about a map they had not yet seen during the lesson (Brandt line) and asked to interpret it and then explain any problems they can see with this. This was completed in timed conditions and then peer assessed. We discussed how such questions would be marked (this close to the exam students are well versed in that) and we modelled some answers which students had felt achieved full marks. There was a quick review of how many marks students had picked up and bar one or two exceptions all had scored maximum marks.

The above is not meant as a guideline for what should be done it merely serves to outline what was done in this case. The result was a grade 1 lesson and what is probably worth noting are the reasons why the HMI graded it that way as it will give people an idea what they were looking for, at least in this case anyway.

The inspector liked that pitch of the lesson with students all able to achieve something beyond their target grade and she liked my emphasis that at the top end the work was more like A-Level than GCSE. She thought that the method of differentiation was good giving students work at their level but as she said by allowing them to work together ‘cross-fertilisation’ occurred where the more able and less able shared ideas. An unexpected positive comment was that she liked the social and spiritual ideas which came out in discussion. There had been some talk during discussion of human rights and whether blocking websites like Facebook was a denial of a rights and also whether all people across the world want development and this was an aspect which was praised although I have to admit not something I had especially planned to occur. A final positive worth noting was that she liked the discussion and questioning that took place and whilst it is difficult to pin down why my questioning / discussion style worked, she said that she liked it when students were asked to paraphrase the answer of a peer and then extent it. Asking questions like are there any aspects of students X’s answer that you thought were especially good or any aspects you disagree with she said was particularly useful.

As ever I hope this will help someone draw their ideas together for OFSTED. Clearly on any given day with a different group, time of year, inspector, star alignment etc the grading may have been different but the above outlines so strategies on the classroom which a very recent inspection verified as being ‘good and then some’.



  1. Excellent account and analysis. Thanks for sharing.

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