What OFSTED Actually WantFebruary 16, 2013
My most popular blogpost ever (in terms of hits) wasn’t really written by me. Entitled “What OFSTED say they want” it was a transcript of a speech made by the chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw.
It became widely distributed because it seemed to contradict the widespread impression that OFSTED wanted “progressive” style teaching, with lots of groupwork, entertainment, discovery learning and little teacher talk. Sir Michael rejected many of the common ideas about OFSTED, even saying he was wary of “an insistence that there should be a balance between teacher led activities and independent learning” and describing a “very traditional teacher” who “ taught in a pretty didactic way” as outstanding.
In a later speech – one that I actually saw him deliver – he made similar comments and in some ways went further, suggesting that even a “fairly boring lesson” could be acceptable if there was learning.
Let me emphasise again to anyone who hasn’t heard this from me or from anyone else in OFSTED. OFSTED does not have a preferred style of teaching, does not have a preferred style of teaching. Inspectors will simply judge teaching on whether children are engaged, focused, learning, and making progress, and in the best and most outstanding lessons, being inspired by the person in front of them.
We don’t want to see lessons that are too crowded, too frenetic, and with too many activities designed simply to impress the inspector. And if that’s happened in the past, it’s wrong. We simply want to see teaching that embeds learning. Ultimately that is what matters.
Indeed, our recent Improving English forum report found a disturbing lack of extended reading and writing in English lessons, because too many teachers thought that they had to plan lessons that focused on activity rather than learning, so if teachers are going through with the class a Shakespeare text, that’s absolutely fine, and do nothing else, that’s fine. If a teacher on a wet Friday afternoon is doing a fairly boring lesson on quadratic equations but the children are learning, that’s fine as well.
This did not appear to be a case of the chief inspector going “off-message” in that changes in the OFSTED handbook were also made to reflect this approach.
25. The key objective of lesson observations is to evaluate the quality of teaching and its contribution to learning, particularly in the core subjects. Inspectors will not look for a preferred methodology but must identify ways in which teaching and learning can be improved…
…Quality of teaching in the school…
…111. Inspectors must not expect teaching staff to teach in any specific way or follow a prescribed methodology…
Some key “progressive” jargon from the description of outstanding teaching in the previous handbook -“Teaching promotes pupils’ high levels of resilience, confidence and independence” – was removed. While it may not sound controversial, this was usually uderstood to refer to staples of progressive pedagogy such as groupwork, discovery learning and project-based learning. Inspectors had been advised to ask
Are pupils working independently? Are they self-reliant – do they make the most of the choices they are given or do they find it difficult to make choices? To what extent do pupils take responsibility for their own learning? How well do pupils collaborate with others? Do they ask questions, of each other, of the teacher or other adults, about what they are learning? Are pupils creative, do they show initiative?
One popular (but unofficial) guide to how to inspect lessons, used in differing versions in a lot of schools but often believed to be popular with inspectors claimed (among other atrocities such as learning styles), that a lesson would be inadequate if:
The children are not used to collaborative talk / working with a talk partner…
Classroom practices discourage independence…
To actually remove the requirement that inspectors look for independence and resilience in their observations was a huge shift. It was made clear that the removal of this criteria was not a mistake by the comment that:
“…Not all aspects of learning, for example pupils’ engagement, interest, concentration, determination, resilience and independence, will be seen in a single observation.”
The message was quite explicit, and I had helped spread it. Didactic teaching, unexciting content and plenty of teacher led activities were perfectly acceptable if it resulted in learning. “Independence” was no longer a requirement for lesson observations. Unfortunately, it was all bollocks.
So here’s the truth. Here’s what they actually want. Here are quotations about teaching and learning from OFSTED reports carried out since the new handbook was introduced in September 2012. (Dates given are the dates for the inspection). Here’s everything I could find about direct instruction, groupwork, whole class teaching and discovery learning in OFSTED reports. This is what they have been saying up and down the country at the chalkface, in a variety of schools with a variety of overall gradings.
In good lessons, teachers plan activities and use a wide variety of resources that enthuse and cater for the full range of needs and abilities. Teachers monitor learning throughout and pupils are encouraged to work in groups and engage in independent learning activities.
For example, in an English lesson, pupils worked enthusiastically in groups, rotating to different tables every 10 minutes to work together in solving challenges on the various forms and uses of verbs.
More typical, however, was a mathematics lesson seen on mirror images where progress was slow as some pupils had already mastered the topic in the previous year. The teacher’s extended presentation and setting of the same work for the entire class failed to cater for this group’s needs. The majority of lessons require improvement to enable pupils to consistently learn well and progress at a faster rate because typically: …
− teachers talk for too long and dominate the learning to the point that pupils begin to get restless
Brimsdown Primary School, Enfield, 11–12 September 2012
Teachers spend too long talking to the whole class, which restricts the time available for pupils to get on with their work.
Aylesford Primary School, Aylesford, 12–13 September 2012
In most lessons, pupils are keen and enthusiastic learners who relish the opportunity to work together. However, they are not always given enough opportunities to develop their independent learning skills.
St Ann’s CofE Primary School, South Tottenham, 20-21 September 2012
The most effective teachers provide significant opportunities for students to work independently. However, this was not a feature of the majority of lessons. Students’ views confirmed inspectors’ observations of too much passive learning where teachers dominated the discussion.
Shevington High School, Wigan, 26-27 September 2012
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because…Lessons are sometimes dominated by the teacher…
Opportunities are missed to engage everyone actively in their learning. Pupils sometimes sit and listen for too long while one pupil answers. In the best lessons, pupils are given opportunities to play a full part by briefly discussing the question in pairs. Teachers’ questioning skills are inconsistent. Not all teachers ask questions that develop pupils’ thinking skills sufficiently.
High Halstow Primary School, Rochester, 3–4 October 2012
Learners are frequently encouraged to develop their independent learning skills…. Learners value the opportunity to engage in debate in lessons, skilfully managed by teachers. A small minority of lessons are too teacher dominated and learners remain largely passive.
Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC) 9-12 October 2012
Pupils are treated as individuals. Teachers and support staff motivate the pupils to do their best and positive approaches help the pupils to build their confidence and self-esteem. Discussion led by the teacher or in small groups or pairs is well established. There is a buzz of activity and engagement when pupils explore their different ideas together.
St Katharine’s CE (VC) Primary School Marlborough, 11–12 October 2012
Where teaching is outstanding, teachers encourage pupils to work together by telling them that ‘scientists work as a team’. Interesting problems posed by the teacher lead to pupils eagerly investigating such questions as whether sound travels round corners.
Duke Street Primary, Chorley, 23-24th October 2013
When teaching is less effective in Key Stages 1 and 2, the pace of learning slows when teachers spend too long talking to the whole class
Medlock Primary School, Manchester, 24–25 October 2012
In the best lessons, teachers provide opportunities for students to work independently and think for themselves. This is not always the case, and some lessons are too dominated by the teacher, which does not always help students to practise what they have learned.
Holy Family Catholic High School, Liverpool, 31 October–1 November 2012
In some lessons teachers spend too long talking to pupils and it takes too long for the pupils to engage with the activities set.
Pheasey Park Farm Primary School, Birmingham, 31 October–1 November 2012
Occasionally, however, teachers talk for too long and pupils are not given enough opportunities to offer their own ideas about how to tackle a given task.
The Crescent Primary School, Croydon, 7−8 November 2012
Some lessons include activities that help promote pupils’ personal development very effectively. For example, pupils in Year 1 developed a good understanding of their Cornish heritage when the teacher transformed the classroom so that they could pretend they were tin miners imagining the difficulties of working in the dark. Pupils worked well together in groups helping each other with their learning.
Wadebridge Primary Academy, Wadebridge, 7–8 November 2012
In an outstanding English lesson, the energy and enthusiasm in the room were infectious.Animated Year 7 students worked in groups debating the vocabulary used by Dickens in an excerpt from A Christmas Carol….
Occasionally, tasks in lessons are not tailored closely enough to students’ needs, with all
expected to complete more or less similar work. These lessons do not provide enough challenge. They offer too few opportunities for students to work independently or in groups and too much of the ‘talk’ comes from the teacher, so that students are not able to contribute enough. Where this happens students do not meet their potential in the lesson.
The Forest School, Horsham, 14–15 November 2012
As a result of the teacher’s advice, Year 6 pupils have made good progress in science when encouraged to work together more to investigate soluble substances….
In some lessons observed, for example, when counting coins or practising times tables, all pupils were expected to recall the same skills at the same time…
In an outstanding Year 5 mathematics lesson, teachers and teaching support staff were deployed very well to work with different ability groups when investigating how to plot coordinates…
In a good Year 6 science lesson, pupils were encouraged to talk about each other’s views and offer critical opinions about whether sugar, flour and sand would dissolve in water.
St John the Evangelist RC, Primary School Bolton, 14–15 November 2012
In a few lessons, pupils were less enthusiastic because the teachers’ explanations took too long and were too complicated, and there was too much recapping of work already familiar to pupils. This left little time for pupils to work on individual tasks, and occasionally, these were class tasks, rather than adapted to meet individual needs.
College House Junior School, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire, 21–22 November 2012
A minority of teaching still requires improvement. In these cases, the teacher dominates the lesson by talking too much and/or over-directing learning. This cuts down students’ opportunities to develop their independent learning skills by working on their own or in groups.
Hellesdon High School, Norwich, 21–22 November 2012
In the best lessons questions are clearly focused and teachers provide opportunities and time for pupils to think for themselves and work in pairs, for example to solve problems.
Children in the Nursery class regularly enjoy a variety of interesting and stimulating activities. Adults are knowledgeable about the needs of very young children and plan their play and learning so it is imaginative and challenging.
Most pupils, especially those in Key Stage 2, know how well they are doing and can say whatbthey need to do in order to develop their learning further. Pupils say that they find teachers’ comments and marking helpful but not all benefit from the opportunities to read and think about what their teacher has to say.
Teachers strive to make lessons as interesting as possible and encourage pupils to work together and listen to what others have to say. Pupils in one class were able to show how well they work together when they were asked to put the Big Bad Wolf on trial. They took delight in working in small groups to form a prosecution and defence and to bring forward fairy-tale character witnesses to support them in assessing the wolf’s guilt or innocence.
Many lessons are well planned with a variety of activities for pupils of different abilities. However, in a small minority there is not enough evidence in the planning of how teachers intend to meet individual pupil’s needs and all activities are the same….
In an outstanding lesson, pupils showed their ability to work well together as they used their creativity and imaginations to compose mobile phone ring tones and produce short animations to a very high standard….
In some lessons, opportunities are missed to harness the enthusiasm and interest of more-able pupils who have the ability and drive to work on their own, in pairs or in groups to find things out for themselves, explore and discuss their ideas.
Calverley Parkside Primary School, 22–23 November 2012
In the less effective lessons there are common weaknesses. In some cases, teachers spend too long talking to the whole class… These lessons offer too few opportunities for students to work independently or in groups
Chichester High School for Boys, Chichester, 27–28 November 2012
In the most effective lessons, teachers plan a variety of creative learning activities which stimulate and challenge pupils to explore their learning for themselves and to use their good social and interaction skills. This was particularly found in the foundation unit and special resource centre. The very colourful integrated provision provides pupils with large free-flowing spaces and stimulating resources which help them to play and learn together and to develop their knowledge and understanding about the world in which they live.
… Occasionally, teachers’ questioning is not demanding enough, and teachers do not encourage pupils to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions with each other. An example of this was seen in a Year 3 lesson where pupils were considering why it is important for Hindus to make a pilgrimage to Varanasi in order to ‘wash away sins’. Pupils spent too much time being told what they needed to do, and not enough time thinking for themselves.
Mayflower Primary School, Plymouth, 28–29 November 2012
What does the school need to do to improve further? Increase the proportion of outstanding teaching by… making sure that teachers do not dominate lessons by talking for too long or telling pupils things they could read or work out for themselves…
…Occasionally, teachers are too quick to explain things or to ‘tell’ pupils something that they could have challenged pupils to explain or find out about for themselves.
Penn Fields School, Wolverhampton, 4–5 December 2012
In English, marking motivates pupils to be imaginative as well as improving the technical aspects of their writing. Occasionally, teachers miss opportunities to encourage pupils to explore mathematical ideas in a similarly creative way.
Bayton CofE Primary School, Near Kidderminster, 5–6 December 2012
In less effective lessons, there is an over reliance on whole-class activities that are sometimes dominated by the teacher. This prevents students from taking their own initiative or developing the ability to work more independently.
Chilton Trinity School,Bridgwater, 6–7 December 2012
In the best lessons enthusiastic teachers use a wide range of resources to capture pupils’ interest. In some, however, teachers spend too long talking to the whole class when introducing the lesson and pupils lose valuable time when they could be working by themselves. This limits the progress pupils can make and hinders their ability to practise and improve their work.
…Teachers encourage pupils to work together and this allows them to learn from each other. In a Year 5 religious education lesson pupils worked in pairs in a role-playing exercise, followed by small group discussions to describe a situation and share ideas successfully.
St Vincent’s RC Primary School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 18–19 December 2012
In the best lessons, teachers provide opportunities for students to work independently or collaboratively. This is not always the case and a few lessons are too dominated by the teacher, preventing students thinking for themselves and taking the initiative.
Preston Muslim Girls High School, Preston, 15–16 January 2013
Pupils’ ability to work exceptionally well in groups and independently for extended periods makes a significant contribution to their outstanding learning.
Tonacliffe Primary School, Whitworth, 16–17 January 2013
In the few lessons where teaching requires improvement, lessons are too teacher-dominated and students are asked to complete repetitive tasks. Students have excellent attitudes to learning. They say that teachers ‘make lessons fun and interesting’ and are strongly motivated to achieve. When working in groups, they value each other’s views and enjoy collaborating to solve problems set by their teachers. Students develop confidence and resilience as learners, and this supports their good progress.
Madeley High School, Crewe, 17–18 January 2013
Lessons are planned in a way that challenges all students to make rapid progress. They are typically characterised by… opportunities for students to work together in groups and to help each other…
St Albans Girls’ School, St Albans, 22–23 January 2013
Some features of effective teaching are seen across all subjects. Teachers give students opportunities to develop the ability to work on their own and to collaborate and discuss their work in groups.
Bilton School, Rugby, 23–24 January 2013
I’m sure I can be accused of being selective, but I doubt that an opposing case could be made from the reports I have seen. Whatever Michael Wilshaw says, teacher talk is still out and groupwork and discovery learning are still in. I deeply regret that I was ever stupid enough to believe that the views of the chief inspector and a revised handbook would be enough to cure the Child-Centred Inquisition of their mission to enforce trendy teaching methods on us all. OFSTED remains the steadfast enforcer of the orthodoxies of progressive education, and it is OFSTED, not league tables or government policies, which most shapes our classroom practices.
We should also remember that these quotations are not simply dry statements in reports which will be read by very few; they reflect judgements that will have consequences for schools and for individuals. Teachers, many of whom will have considered themselves highly effective, will have been sat down and told they are inadequate because they talk too much or because their classes were not working in groups. Headteachers in schools with good results and happy kids will be told they need to improve because of their reliance on traditional teaching methods. Leaders of appalling, under-performing schools who fail their students by chasing after all the latest guff, will have been told that they are “good” because they have introduced groupwork into every lesson. Careers will have been made or ruined on the back of the unofficial ideology enforced, through fear, by OFSTED. My view is that until OFSTED are abolished, or reformed beyond recognition, then our system will remain imprisoned by the progressive orthodoxy no matter what the politicians, or the chief inspector, happens to say.