What OFSTED Say They WantOctober 13, 2012
A lot of teachers have been told that OFSTED will require them to stop teaching their classes and, instead, make children sit in groups knitting their own yoghurts, pausing only to be lectured on the minutiae of how to distinguish a level 5c from a level 4a. The best antidote to this is to hear what Michael Wilshaw, the head of OFSTED, actually said to the RSA when asked to describe a good teacher.
Here is a transcript of his comments:
Perhaps I can start by mentioning two teachers to you that I remember from Mossbourne, my previous school. There are many good teachers there. I just want to mention two of them as a way of leading into this debate. One is an English teacher. She’s still teaching there. She’s in her late twenties. She’s an absolutely outstanding Advanced Skills Teacher and I remember observing lots of her lessons but I’ll mention just one of them. One of them was a lesson on the Merchant of Venice and she was teaching incredibly well. She had part of the class reciting Portia’s speech; you know, the quality of mercy. They were all doing that; this is a middle ability class. She had the Al Pacino film on the touchscreen behind her. She had a couple of youngsters dressed in Tudor garb and it was just one of those brilliant lessons that you see and it was full of energy; it was full of pace and she was moving around between the different groups doing different things.
That was one teacher; one lesson. The second lesson, or the second teacher I remember, was somebody in his late fifties. He was the head of maths. He was a very traditional teacher. He taught in a pretty didactic way, but the kids loved him across the ability range. He knew how to teach maths. You know what a great maths teacher does? Builds block by block to ensure that youngsters don’t move on until they understand the ground rules. He would spend many, many hours in the evening every night preparing powerpoints for himself and for the staff in his department and he would disseminate good practice, in terms of how to use powerpoints, to other people in his department and beyond his department to other schools in Hackney and beyond. And he produced absolutely fantastic results although some people would say he was a very didactic teacher. So these two people were very different teachers but incredibly successful and the reason why they were successful was because they developed a style of teaching with which they were comfortable, not complacent, but with which they were comfortable and which they knew worked. It worked because children enjoyed their lessons; were engaged; were focused; learnt a great deal and made real progress.
For me a good lesson is about what works. A good lesson is about what works. So this is a plea, this evening, for pragmatism not ideology in the way we judge the quality of teaching. I am reminded about Blair’s words in relation to that sterile debate on the academy programme and structural reform. He said: “what works is what’s good”. What works is what’s good and I have the same view in terms of teaching. We, and in that word “we” I include OFSTED, should be wary of trying to prescribe a particular style of teaching, whether it be a three part lesson; an insistence that there should be a balance between teacher led activities and independent learning, or that the lesson should start with aims and objectives with a plenary at the end and so on and so forth. We should be wary of too much prescription. In my experience a formulaic approach pushed out by a school or rigidly prescribed in an inspection evaluation schedule traps too many teachers into a stultifying and stifling mould which doesn’t demand that they use their imagination, initiative and common sense. Too much direction is as bad as too little. Both teachers I’ve mentioned to you understood this but also understood that there were other things they had to do.
Firstly, planning was everything for them. They planned their lessons so that they knew what they were going to do; knew what resources they were going to deploy, and knew roughly how long each activity would take. But they also understood that planning shouldn’t be too detailed. It was a framework to give them the necessary flexibility to adapt to a different way of teaching at key moments in the lesson when the mood of the class, as it inevitably does, changes. They recognised that the worst lessons are those where the teacher ploughs through the lesson plan irrespective of how well or badly the lesson is going. OFSTED won’t necessarily require a lesson plan when inspectors observe, but they will want to see a planned lesson and there is a difference.
Secondly, these two people I’ve mentioned were incredibly reflective teachers who would adapt their lesson plan when things didn’t go well; so at the end of the lesson, or the end of the day, they’d go back to the lesson plan and change it. Because they were reflective people, they knew that they didn’t have the answers to everything and were prepared to learn from others although they were acknowledged by the school to be outstanding teachers. This meant that they talked a lot about their teaching to others, were happy to go into other teachers’ classrooms and were only too willing for other teachers to go into their classrooms. They acknowledged that, no matter how experienced they were, teaching was a learning experience.
Thirdly, they were very perceptive people who understood the dynamics of the classroom. They quickly noticed when the pace of the lesson had dropped and when students had become disengaged and children’s attention has started to slacken. They were quick to notice when the classroom hubbub had reached an unacceptable level and Jack the lad was messing about at the back of the room. At the same time, they were quick to spot when a youngster found it difficult to understand the work and needed more help. In other words, they were highly interventionist teachers and knew how to dictate the pace of the lesson.
Fourthly, they understood the maxim that nothing is taught unless it’s learned. They measured their success, therefore, on whether children were learning and making progress and because they were hugely successful teachers this meant rapid progress. Whenever I observed them teach, they would stop the class at regular intervals and say “I just want to check that you’ve learnt this”. They were all great at picking out the inattentive child to ensure that he or she understood the importance of keeping up.
Finally, they were incredibly resilient people who withstood the slings and arrows and the occasional paper dart unflinchingly. They never let failure get the better of them; they learnt from it and came back stronger, tougher and better teachers. They were all in their different ways fierce characters; fierce, not in a repressive or bullying way, but tough on standards. They weren’t authoritarians but they were authoritative. In other words they made sure youngsters knew who was in charge and who was setting the boundaries for acceptable behaviour. Both took a lead in professionally developing others and supported the school’s training programme. Both of them would have said that the leadership of teaching was the most important quality in headship and, of course, I endorse that view. Headship is about leading teaching first and foremost. A good head understands this and is, therefore, more outside his or her office than inside, patrolling the corridor, entering classrooms and engaging teachers and children throughout the school day. Good management is always secondary to good leadership of teaching. I knew both of these teachers well because I did that as a head.
If you are going to be successful as a teacher, head of department or headteacher, you’ve got to be a high profile, highly visible person who has the physical and emotional energy to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Never believe that leadership of teaching can be done by remote control. OFSTED needs to endorse the school and the head who drives improvement in teaching. It is good that the new framework emphasises teaching more than anything else and that there is a clear correlation between the judgements on teaching and those on the overall effectiveness of the school. It is good that the inspectors will be asking questions about the robustness of performance management in relation to the quality of teaching and the salary levels of staff. It’s good that unannounced inspections will mean that inspectors see lessons as they normally are and – let me make this clear – if we see an extended piece of writing or reading, or the structured reinforcement of mathematical formula, where the children are engaged and learning then that’s fine. Let me also emphasise we do not want to see teaching simply designed to impress inspectors. We don’t want to see lessons which are more about classroom entertainment and promoting the personality of the teacher than embedding children’s learning in a meaningful way. So let that message be proclaimed from the rooftops. OFSTED will judge the quality of teaching in relation to the quality of learning and whether children and young people across the age and ability range are making the progress they should be from the starting points. There will be no OFSTED template which compels teachers to do things they wouldn’t normally do. We need to celebrate diversity, ingenuity and imagination in the way that we teach. Surely this is common sense. When every child is different; every class is different, and every year group is different. One size rarely fits all. Surely this adage must apply to teaching as it does to most things in life.
An edited version can be viewed below.
Some of this is stuff teachers, labouring to fit their lessons to a particular structure or ideology imposed by their schools because OFSTED supposedly require it, will be delighted to hear. Just in case you think that Sir Michael is misrepresenting the official position of his organisation in calling for tolerance of different teaching styles, it is worth being aware of the following snippets from the latest OFSTED handbook:
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…
…Not all aspects of learning, for example pupils’ engagement, interest, concentration, determination, resilience and independence, will be seen in a single observation.