OFSTED Best Practice Videos

March 9, 2013

Last time I blogged, I highlighted the gap between OFSTED “good practice” in secondary maths and the known opinions of their chief inspector. I mentioned an OFSTED good practice video and suggested there were more out there which were worth looking at for an insight into the ideology of OFSTED.

Here are the recent OFSTED videos in order of terribleness with the least terrible first.

Update 30/3/2013: The OFSTED good practice videos were all removed immediately after I blogged about them. If you’d like me to send you a transcript, email me.

First, we have Roots and Shoots.

Update 5/5/2013: Current version of video below:

This is a charity which trains students with “significant disadvantages” (a phrase which apparently includes criminals and the badly behaved) in a variety of vocational skills. Although I would have thought that this might be considered to be too controversial to be “good practice” I’d have to accept that this beats sending them on free holidays and they deserve credit for teaching City and Guilds qualifications rather than BTECs. The only thing that really set off alarm bells is the following from Ruth Mitchell, their education coordinator:

We can then go on to structure their initial learning plan for their work aims and also their own personal objectives. We use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs often and we actually draw that up in one of the classes so they can see what it is and how it relates to them and they can map themselves and their objectives that way.

Maslow’s hierarchy is a psychological theory from the early 1940s that has long since been discredited by the empirical evidence. While teaching unsupportable psychological theories is hardly rare in education, and does not invalidate the work of Roots and Shoots, it is hard not to question how it could be mentioned in a “best practice” video.

Secondly, we have Edith Neville’s school and their “good practice” on stopping bullying.

Update 5/5/2013: Current version of video below:

There’s (just about) some reasonable stuff about how to manage behaviour, but the main line is to repeat one of the big lies of behaviour management: pupils will behave if their teacher is nice to them. So we hear:

Narrator: At Edith Neville Primary in North London, they’ve created a positive school culture to prevent and tackle bullying

Amanda Szewczyk-Radley [headteacher]: The first thing that hits you when you come into the school is how it really feels like a supportive, friendly place.

Narrator: Key to Edith Neville’s success has been the modelling of positive behaviour by staff…

Amanda Szewczyk-Radley: Actually you just do it. You model it all the time. If you hear it not happening, you in a very kind of supportive and gentle way re-model how that might happen… Basically if you’re talking to children you talk to them in the way that you would want to be spoken to. I don’t hear people shouting. I don’t hear people shouting round corridors. I don’t hear people barking at children. I don’t hear people talking to children in what I would call quite aggressive tones.

Neil McIntyre: As a school in general one of the strengths is that there is a genuinely warm and affectionate relationship between adults and children. And so an awful lot of the interaction is not just on a professional teaching and learning level. There’s an awful lot of conversation and a lot of chat.

Narrator: A strong ethos of kindness and respect has been encouraged throughout the school.

Amanda Szewczyk-Radley: It’s in everything. It’s in absolutely everything. Continually talking about the equality of each other. How it doesn’t matter if have a different view to another person. How through the lessons you would point out, well so and so thinks this, but so and so thinks that. And are those wrong or are they just different. And so you’re getting children all the time to say, well this is someone’s different view but we are OK to accept that we have a different opinion.

Pupil: Our teachers learn us [sic] to be good because we do circle time and it will learn people to be nice and kind and not bullying.

Yes, that’s right, the main plank of OFSTED’s good practice on stopping bullying is to be nice to children so they will be nice to each other. The myth that this will work is believed by a large number of people until they actually find themselves in charge of children, at which point it is only maintained by those who want to proclaim their own superior degree of niceness, and those (particularly those in SMT)  who want to blame other adults, whenever a child does something wrong.

And finally, and this one has to be seen to be believed (at least if you are not used to what goes on in schools), we have good practice in English. A subject that, once upon a time, you may have thought had a lot to do with reading and, dare I say it, writing. Not according to OFSTED:

Emily Tudor: We seem to have bucked the national trend with boys at St Paul’s. We’ve done a lot of work on trying to engage boys in the subject. We’ve found that talk is really key to literacy. And that, you know, it’s sometimes undervalued I think. It plays a pivotal role in actually getting students, boys and girls to read and write better.

Narrator: Historically St Paul’s had an intake of two thirds boys. This lead to the development of strategies which have ensured that boys do at least as well as girls in English. One of which is an emphasis on speaking and listening… We use Socratic dialogue quite a lot. And I like to ask different students to take on different roles…. So today we had a mixture of different types of speakers in the inner circle. Some people who are more reflective, really good listeners, who kind of hold back and then put their ideas in. And some more confident speakers that just get going straight away… Everybody gets a chance to put forward their ideas and then they can take those ideas and develop them in their own way in their writing. So you could use it as exam preparation from a text, or before a piece of controlled assessment. It’s a really, a nice way of generating lots of ideas.

Alys Winstanley [“teaching” a class]: Right, in your pairs decide what genre are you going to make this script. If you can start making ideas what dialogue will happen next. Off you go everyone.

Narrator: Underpinning the practice of speaking and listening is an emphasis on collaboration between all students.

Alys Winstanley: We do a lot of group work, a lot of collaborative work. So I think the students are keen to see each other succeed. And they can recognise good work when they see it… I think collaborative work is really important in getting that positive supportive atmosphere between students.

Teacher: We have found as a pattern that boys like to be up out of their seats. They like to have the freedom to be trusted. Learning beyond the classroom which is a Key Stage 3 term is something that we’ve really sort of taken and run with in the English Department here

Narrator: The use of flip cameras has proved to be a key tool in drawing students, especially boys, in to the process of learning.

Update 5/5/2013: Current version of video below:

Of course, there will be those who watch this and will be baffled as to what’s wrong with any of this. If I was an expert in English teaching I’d know that having a chat and filming themselves with flip cameras (according to one of the teachers this is “essential in all English departments”) was actually the key to effective teaching. Perhaps, when a GCSE English exam can involve analysing reality TV or an interview with Lady Gaga this sort of thing can  contribute to getting qualifications. But can we at least consider the possibility that this isn’t what should be accepted as “good practice” for all schools to follow?



  1. I just looked at the English one. It is often English teachers that are most passionately in favour of group work and collaboration and I think there is a reason for this. Articulating and chewing over ideas before putting pen to paper is good, the child tends to then demonstrate more developed understanding. In English where the actual worth of the points you make is less of a consideration than structure, style etc, it isn’t a surprise that discussion is seen as good as you can have debates on things children are already well informed about and focus on their ability to articulate, develop, support, summarise etc. I guess OA would question the fact the focus is on the skill, not content, and so would I but I can see why English teachers are more likely to be attached to group work.
    Having said that, I have staged enough class debates (politics and history ones) in my time to be well aware that kids will talk gibberish in a debate on abortion without proper preparation in advance. It is disingenuous of Ofsted to just show the debate not the leg work before (that should have involved lots of reading if possible) that made it good or the way it will be used to produce a good piece of writing. Ultimately the impression is that the the speaking is an end in itself. If the debate helps their written work the key issue is how it does and that is not shown. If they are claiming that if the children speak about abortion it will in some way improve written work on other topics – magically- that is rubbish. You will need to use the fact they have developed a deep understanding of the abortion debate to raise the standard of a written piece on abortion.

  2. I advised an NQT recently to avoid teaching the necessary content in an observed lesson. Time things so that the kids are pretty much using what they already know, when observed. That English clip follows that rule exactly. The actual transmission of knowledge is ‘dirty work’ and you’ll struggle to get an ‘outstanding’ while doing it.

  3. I wouldn’t entirely dismiss Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as discredited as it is a highly useful tool for managers assess the reasons behind under performance or to drive performance in a stagnant environment. But you must remember that it is only one of the many tools in a managers armoury and I doubt any manager knows their individual members of staff well enough to help them approach anything like self actualization. It also essentially a work place tool and although it may help the SMT manage the workforce, students are not park of the workforce. They are there because they have to be and they generally have no choice in where or what they study – for many self actualization may simply be getting out of education. Combine Maslow with Theory X and Theory Y and you have a complex motivational analysis tool that has to balance the needs of the organization against the needs of the individual. Trying to apply this to how and why a 15 year old would pay attention and do well in school is barking.
    The notion that if you are nice to people and they will be nice to others is barking. I like the comment that staff “model good behaviour’. Are they suggesting that some teachers deliberately model bad behaviour?
    It all seems to smack of the usual Ofsted/DfE paradigm of finding good and innovative practice and then get the whole profession to follow suit. When the new system doesn’t work, blame the teachers for not being innovative and imaginative – a pretty obvious Catch 22 to a layman’s eyes!

  4. Well I am a Head of English who watched exactly this film previously and was baffled.

  5. I think Ofsted should get rid of the ‘outstanding’ rating for individual lessons. Lessons are either good enough or they aren’t. This is because putting on a show for Ofsted is meaningless. Just because you can deliver an ‘outstanding’ lesson to order does not mean you teach children well as so much about your skill as a teacher is about the choices you make about WHAT you teach. So much of what I do to prepare A Level and GCSE students has little to do with whether my lessons are all finely crafted individual entities.
    Ofsted can still check if the school is fostering good practice but we all know not all our lessons are outstanding and nor should they be as that would mean you are not spending time on other important things. Last weekend I spent my time putting together a set of revision questions for year 11, got to school and did a pretty mundane text book lesson with the class. They still learnt l and I consider my revision questions to be outstanding – but if that lesson was observed I as a teacher would have been rated ‘satisfactory’. Nonsense.

  6. […] Teaching in British schools « OFSTED Best Practice Videos […]

  7. Could you clarify what you have against the “be nice to students” approach? I suppose it depends upon your definition of “nice” but from the transcript it appears to mean not shouting at students in the corridor and explaining how they could have made different choices.
    I don’t see how shouting is an improvement on this (and I speak as a teacher who sometimes has the child sit for five minutes whilst I compose myself and can talk about my anger and disappointment in a constructive way).

    • My issue is with claiming that being nice to students helps manage their behaviour. As for shouting: https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/shouting/

      • Thank you for your response. I thought it would be the definition of ‘nice’. I think if you define it as being calm and considerate and basically role modelling behaviour they might not see at home ‘nice’ is not a bad thing.
        What’s your definition?

        • Whether it is a good or bad thing to be nice is not the issue. Whether it is effective behaviour management is.

  8. […] the invaluable Scenes from the Battleground blog, a critique of teaching videos held out in the UK as “best […]

  9. […] have blogged before about the OFSTED good practice videos and how they, at best, show a very limited range of often mediocre practice, and at worst, show […]

  10. […] not sure where they got this incredible nugget of wisdom from: was it a local authority adviser? An Ofsted ‘best practice’ video? An outdated textbook that had been gathering dust on a shelf for 27 years? Tealeaves? Either way, […]

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