The Open-Ended Hypocrisy of OFSTEDSeptember 16, 2013
A few weeks ago I drew attention to the ever increasing number of statements in the OFSTED handbook about having no one preferred style of teaching. This looked like progress. Something also indicated by the following from a recent speech by Michael Gove:
…Ofsted’s guidance provided too little clarity about what constituted good teaching; or allowed inspectors’ personal prejudices and preferences to be interpreted as ‘the Ofsted way’.
As a result, and as teacher bloggers like Andrew Old have chronicled, time and again too much emphasis was given to particular practices like group work and discovery learning; while Ofsted inspectors marked teachers down for such heinous crimes as ‘talking too much’, ‘telling pupils things’ or ‘dominating the discussion’.
The good news is that Ofsted – under its inspirational new leadership – is moving to address all these weaknesses and give us a system of inspection of which we can be proud.
It was followed by an interview with Michael Wilshaw in the TES where he again said there was no one correct way to teach. Could we finally be moving on from OFSTED approved teaching methods?
I’m sure you can guess the answer.
A little earlier this evening on Twitter I was talking to @saraherowland . She was asking about “open-ended” questions. The idea of asking open-ended questions was big with the “thinking skills” people a few years back. The basic idea is that a question with a single right answer is a bad thing, whereas a question, or activity, where there is a variety of possible outcomes is a good thing. The underlying ideology is that we should teach thinking rather than knowledge and, therefore, questions and activities should provided opportunity for unstructured thought rather than simply lead to the recall or acquisition of knowledge. I’m a sceptic about this, partly because I think this is a flawed view of how the mind works and partly because I have seen it used by teachers to cover up their own poor subject knowledge.
Sarah explained that her interest was because it is what OFSTED want. And sure enough, I found the following from the last few months (and I deliberately avoided looking back too far.
From the OFSTED report for Treetops Nursery (London NW1) in March:
It is not yet outstanding because staff do not always respond to children’s interests and ideas and they do not always use open-ended questions to encourage children’s critical thinking skills and extend their vocabulary
From the OFSTED report for Rhymes Nursery (Birmingham) in March:
Staff use some effective teaching methods; they follow children’s lead in their play and ask open-ended questions to extend and support children’s critical thinking.
From the OFSTED report for Hoath Primary School (Canterbury) in May:
It is not yet an outstanding school because… Occasionally, opportunities are missed to involve pupils in more open-ended discussions…
From the OFSTED report for Oriel Primary School (Hounslow) in June:
It is not yet an outstanding school because… Occasionally in lessons, pupils are not reminded how what they learn can be applied in their day-to-day lives. Some activities are less interesting or open-ended, so pupils are not always fully motivated to learn in these lessons…
What does the school need to do to improve further?…. Increase the proportion of outstanding teaching by … ensuring investigational activities are more open-ended… giving children in the Nursery and Reception classes more open-ended activities…
In some day-to-day work, activities are not as open-ended as they could be, to capitalise on the exciting experiences they have.
Occasionally, activities are slightly predictable and not always openended to make the most of children’s desire to be creative.
From the OFSTED report on The Most Able Students published in June:
Weaker provision included the following characteristics… students being given the same homework tasks as other, less able, students with few examples of more challenging or open-ended tasks
While the OFSTED report for Kid Ease Nursery – Swingfield House in Folkestone does not appear to have been published yet, local press reports:
The inspector particulary liked the natural and calming dcor and noted how this ethos alongside use of natural objects and open ended resources meant that children were not disturbed by bright, noisy, plastic toys.
As ever, OFSTED’s lack of endorsement of specific types of teaching seems a lot less sincere when you look at what their people actually write. You can teach any way you like, as long as it’s open-ended.