A Brief Comment on OFSTED and Teacher TalkJune 7, 2013
One of the recurring themes of my looks at OFSTED has been their blanket hostility to teachers actually talking. OFSTED guidance for PE states that inadequate teaching involves “too much teacher talk” (from here). My first big trawl through the OFSTED reports found ten different reports complaining that teachers talked too much. Even in an outstanding school teaching can still be criticised because “In a few lessons, teachers talked too much” (from here). This is from an organisation, you may remember, which has no actual guidance as to how much talking is appropriate and, according to their leader (who thinks a “didactic” teacher can be outstanding), doesn’t require a particular type of teaching.
When I have raised this before, people have suggested that inspectors may simply have observed teachers talking too much in those particular schools, but this still assumes that it is the role of OFSTED to judge quantity rather than quality in teacher talk. While there are many times when less talk (of the wrong kind) might create greater learning, there are equally likely to be times when more talk (of the right kind) might improve it. Yet such instances seem completely absent from the reports. Talking on the part of teachers is a mistake to be avoided, not a skill to be nurtured, in the eyes of OFSTED.
But just in case you think that this interpretation of OFSTED’s requirements is idiosyncratic on my part, it was pointed out to me on Twitter this week that one consultancy company has noticed it too and is making money out of it.
More details can be found here.
According to the promotional material, the course will help teachers:
Prepare for Ofsted’s new minimum teacher talk expectationsClarify what must be done to succeed under Ofsted’s revised framework
This apparently involves “talking less and meaning more” and so those being trained will be taught to:
Build talk-less teaching into all lessons
Apply talk-less systems to develop pupils’ learning
Hard to blame the company for taking this opportunity. Clearly this is what schools expect OFSTED to be looking for.
Beyond the usual criticisms which I’d make of OFSTED dishonesty and dogmatism. there is an important point to be made here about what is being lost as a result of the assault on teacher talk. Harry Webb (the pseudonymous writer of the Webs of Substance blog) wrote an excellent defence of teachers talking earlier this week which I would recommend reading if you haven’t already. In particular he identifies explanation as crucial to teaching:
I recently found myself in a discussion with a consultant who wished to replace my use of the word “explain” with the word “tell”… I would … allow that the definition of “telling” could be expanded to include the idea of explanation; that there is no clear demarcation between the two. However, I do not believe that this was the consultant’s intent. By trying to reduce all exposition to merely “telling” I believe that he was trying to perform the same trick as those who argue that to teach knowledge is to teach rote lists of disconnected facts. By diminishing and trivialising the concept, it provides a vacuum in which alternative conceptions may flourish, such as those that have failed with tragic regularity throughout the twentieth century; such as those that this consultant was promoting.
Teachers must continually seek to improve the quality of what they say but teachers must always talk and talk a lot. It is absurd to suggest otherwise and I despair that our profession seem so at ease with such absurdities.
Explaining is about as fundamental to teaching as it gets. In many ways explaining is teaching. Not only would I argue that it is wrong for OFSTED’s unofficial agenda to attack explanation by attacking teacher talk, even the official material which claims no such bias misses any hope of identifying good teaching by not identifying explanation as something to be judged. The OFSTED criteria allow inspectors to condemn a teacher if they cannot mark books, ask questions or assess progress effectively, but it doesn’t suggest inspectors judge whether a teacher can actually explain their subject or not.