The OFSTED Teaching StyleMay 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?