The OFSTED Teaching Style

May 20, 2013

I’ve been writing quite a bit recently about the teaching style which Ofsted appear to require (despite their handbook and their chief inspector saying that there is no such thing as a required style of teaching). In particular, inspectors condemn teacher talk; favour group work; complain if anything is boring, and look for “independence” on the part of students. This “independence” is apparently not a quality to be gained as an eventual aim of education, but a property of the activities seen in lesson observations. This post provides a small number of additional examples of the OFSTED teaching style I have recently encountered.

Firstly, I was contacted by Wendy Varley, a parent looking for a secondary school in the Isle of Wight. This is what she found in the OFSTED reports for three of the schools.

1. From a school inspected in March 2013 which has failed its Ofsted inspection:

There are too many lessons in which teachers talk for too long, and in which there is little variety in the type of activity or opportunities for students to work in groups and by themselves. As a consequence, students quickly become bored and, as their behaviour deteriorates, these lessons are disrupted and students fail to make any progress.

2. From another school, inspected in November, which also failed its inspection:

Too many lessons are uninteresting. In many cases teachers talk for too long, with little variety in the lesson activities. They ask simple questions that require only one- or two-word answers. In these lessons students become bored and unmotivated, and so they do not produce their best work.

3. In order for this “good” school (inspected July 2012), to become outstanding it needs to:

Eliminate the remaining satisfactory teaching and increase the amount of outstanding teaching, in particular by ensuring that in all lessons:

learning moves at a sufficiently rapid pace so that students of all abilities achieve as much as they can in the time available

teachers do not spend too long talking to the whole class and give students good opportunities to work independently, with each other and in groups….

….The other common weakness in satisfactory lessons is that the teacher spends too much time talking to the whole class, with too little time for students to work more actively, on their own or with each other. This can result in students responding passively to the lesson.

Of course, we’ve all seen this kind of rhetoric before and supposedly Michael Wilshaw is against imposing a teaching style and has warned inspectors about reports that “contain phrases that create the false impression that Ofsted expect teaching to occur in a particular way”. Obviously, these inspectors have got the wrong idea about what they should be looking for. But where could they have got it from?

Well, I have provided many places where OFSTED have given this impression, but one that I have recently discovered, when it was released under a Freedom of Information request, is the style guidance for writing reports  sent to inspectors by “Sue Gregory, their “National Director of Education”. In a section on avoiding inspector speak and jargon in reports she gives the following example of good and bad phrasing.

Apparently, this is phrased badly:

Many pupils are overly reliant on adult support and are unable to sustain their learning without direct intervention from. Pupils rely too much on adults for help. They are not taught how to work by themselves. This is because they are not given enough help to acquire the strategies they need to become independent learners

It should be expressed as:

Pupils rely too much on adults for help. They are not taught how to work by themselves.

So apparently OFSTED were so comfortable with declaring that teachers should not be helping students more than the approved (presumably minimal) amount in lessons, they actually had guidance on how best to say it. Is there really any point Wilshaw claiming inspectors are to judge learning not teaching style, if one of his underlings is telling inspectors how best to phrase their (apparently assumed) dislike of a particular way of teaching?



  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. The probem is that it is easy to deny the problem by saying that maybe all these teachers did talk on for too long in the context of the lessons taught. I agree that the fact you never come across inspections saying not enough time was spent on explanation is rather telling- but not enough in itself.

    • Quite apart from the lack of contrasting comments anywhere, the notable thing is that the talking is only ever criticised for lasting “too long”, it is never suggested that it was, say, too repetitive, too unfocused, or covered too much material in one sitting. This does suggest there is an unofficial OFSTED standard for the quantity of talking.

      Besides, in each case there is also a comment about activities and two out of the three mention working in groups. Combined with countless examples given in other my blogs, it’s hard to deny that there remains an OFSTED style of teaching.

      • I think that is a fair point but where are there any exemplars? I have long said that a spine of mentors is of far more use. However what happens when there is a pattern of bald “teacher talk” over and over in each lesson as there may be with “get into groups”. It just leads to observations that ossify into this kind of observation perhaps? Maybe it requires a system of analysis that can’t be seen to provide progression in 30 minutes?

  3. Do the comments ever quantify ‘too long’? If not, they’re deeply unhelpful, quite apart from being misguided.

  4. Doesn’t this just show that *some* Ofsted inspectors value a certain style. It doesn’t show that *all* do or that this is an ‘Ofsted Style’. Although I agree that it would be difficult to prove. I think your argument should be that too many inspectors have a preferred style as I would only have to find one that doesn’t approve of the style above to disprove your assertion.

    Also, perhaps the teachers *were* talking for too long. Good didactic teachers would adjust the pace or probe with good questions etc and should not leave students bored. If they have become bored and distracted, then the learning has stopped.

    • On their own the three reports don’t show much at all. Combined with everything else, it seems undeniable.

    • Though it is only three schools, that represents half the state secondary schools on the Isle of Wight. All six have been inspected in the past year. Two reports didn’t make a specific comment about teacher talk. The sixth school’s report is due out any day now.

      As a parent, I am aware of there being a scramble to please Ofsted, particularly in those schools that are being closely monitored. Perhaps that’s a good thing, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t want my child’s teachers to feel they have to present “identikit” lessons in which they’re timing what they say and are worried about sharing their knowledge in case it’s perceived as too “teacher-led”. Some of the best teachers I’ve known were “wordy”. There should be room for all styles.

    • It’s the dog that didn’t bark. Has there ever been an OFSTED report criticising a teacher for spending too little time talking to the whole class? Or an OFSTED report that criticised a teacher for too much group work? Or a teacher criticised for excessive use of ‘craft’ activities during lessons?

      If OFSTED take a balanced view of teacher talk versus group work and crafts, you would expect to see praise and criticism for both. If A is never criticised and B is never praised, the conclusion that A is strongly preferred is hard to resist.

  5. […] listened to @oldandrewuk‘s extensive evidence about Ofsted I am happy to accept that   Ofsted has a problem with teacher talk. However, I also have a story that has always heartened me in the face of people arguing that […]

  6. I think you are confusing teaching style with teaching principles. I think what ofsted are trying to achieve is fair enough – that all lessons are built on the principles of being student focuse;d aspiring for independence; promoting student choice and a focus on students learning with each other.
    Any lesson that isnt like this, quite frankly,isnt a lesson where students will make progres. These have to be the principles the founding stones of all lessons.

    How teachers go about achieving these objectives is their “style”

    • This pretty much amounts to “you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black”. You can have any teaching style you like as long as it’s based on the principles of progressive education? Frankly, requiring we believe in that dogma is more of an imposition than requiring a particular teaching style, freedom of thought is more fundamental than freedom of action. The reason I’d want to choose my own teaching style is so I can teach in line with what I believe is right. No point telling me that I have to dumb-down but I can choose how.

    • Goodness… what rot!

      I can think of many excellent lessons I have witnessed as a mentor where there was no evidence of student focus, no independent learning, no choice and no co-learning.

      Why were they excellent? Because the kids ‘learnt’.

      I myself like a mix of teaching styles and I am very relaxed and open minded about the use of progressive teaching styles.

      I try and force myself to use variety in my own practice and encourage others to do the same.

      Sometimes a lesson of mine might be 100% ‘progressive’ and another lesson might be 100% ‘old fashioned’ e.g. chalk and talk, a bit of discussion and some silent exercises.

      There is no doubt in my mind that the latter would fail an OFSTED yet I firmly believe in my efficacy as a teacher- if gut instinct, good discipline, popularity, great results are anything to go by… (sod modesty for the moment)

      But I will say this- I know of a few teachers that use predominately progressive techniques- and I really don’t rate them – not if indiscipline, constant noise, poor results etc are anything to go by.

      • I think our point of disagreement is definition of learning. I define “learnt” with an intertwine with independent mastery – so what if they can do it when I’m in the room? The litmus test is when students can do it when I AM NOT in the room – when I am not over their shoulder.

        Furthermore, I want my students to become masters of learning – not just the subject content, but their ability to negotiate the subject OR ANY SUBJECT independently. This means allowing them to make choices (and fail and find out why these fail, as it helps them and me to discover how they learn best for them) , and supporting each other through dialogue and questioning.

        Again, back to the litmus test, I want to build them to a point where they are doing this when they don’t see me – when they are in the library or at home.

        Unless they are not doing these things, they are merely acquiring more knowledge – if you take the time to read any book on cognitive psychology, you can see just how difficult actually acquiring knowledge, developing skills and a meta-awareness of learning actually is (“sod modesty for a moment,” M.Ed (Cantab) Psychology and Education) Without the ability to practice these learning skills in an environment where they can get feedback on their learning approach, how else do you expect students to move forward both now and in five years times?

        There is simply no way that draw and talk or traditional learning methodologies provides them with this “whole education” which we are coming increasingly enlightened that is so much needed by students to succeed. What about the majority of these students who the skills to learn are not so inherent? To develop and to question themselves and others do not come natural? If we accept the premise intelligence is malleable, then learning skills should be central core to the learning experience – not left on a side note whilst the teacher leads from the front.

        I feel you might need to find a more appropriate means by which to challenge an argument – what “rot” is informed by a deep and intense study of the subject of educational and child psychology, a professional qualification as a psychologist and experience across different provisions to boot (in particular SEN). Please do disagree with me Sir, but not in such a tone which could potentially put others off writing on this blog.

        • annoyingly I missed this reply 1st time round.
          Now its been re-blogged I will have a go.

          Im happy with litmus tests- I have my own- I call them tests.

          If traditional techniques NEVER produce ‘mastery’ then it remains a mystery why so many kids of a certain strata in previous generations had far superior skills and knowledge than todays kids.

          I have already said that I PERSONALLY like variety.

          But there is nothing wrong with several lessons in a row being of the traditional type and I know many kids who like them and that they are effective.

          I also know many kids that just dont respond well to the group work, self diagnosed, self learning approach. They get little out of it and find it patronising and/or inefficient.

          Equally I know kids that buck buck those observations.

          So you assert that for a lesson to be ‘good’ it MUST have the progressive characteristics you previously mentioned.

          And Im asserting that view is ‘rot’.

          Sorry, allow me to re-phrase – its Bulls*it.


  7. […] The OFSTED Teaching Style (teachingbattleground.wordpress.com) […]

  8. […] The OFSTED Teaching Style (teachingbattleground.wordpress.com) […]

  9. […] A. Old (2013) ‘The OFSTED Teaching Style’, https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/the-ofsted-teaching-style/ (post dated 20 May 2013; site accessed 22 September […]

  10. […] What OFSTED want My own research on what OFSTED were supporting and a further post The OFSTED Teaching Style […]

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