When will OFSTED change?

September 25, 2013

I know I’ve mentioned this before, and I’m sure I’ll mention it again (and again and again), but one of the proudest moments of my blogging life was when Michael Gove said the following earlier this month:

…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.

The reason this particular utterance made blogging seem worthwhile was that this did not seem to be a case of the secretary of state for education finding something he agreed with and praising it, but actually a case of the man who we are told never listens to teachers reading something and being influenced by it. I’d like to believe he is right, and that OFSTED are changing for the better and I have heard rumours that they are looking to change.

However, given this was at the start of this term, I can’t resist pointing out how little sign of change OFSTED have shown recently regarding their attitudes to teacher talk. A few days after that speech OFSTED released a report on careers guidance which complained that “a Year 10 assembly to launch work experience was too didactic and provided no opportunities for the students to participate”. I’m trying to imagine what participation is meant to take place in work experience assemblies. Singing hymns? Shouted responses? Football chants? Only people utterly hostile to teacher talk could expect a work experience assembly to be a fully interactive experience. To quote the SecondaryCEIAG blog where I found out about this: “An assembly to launch work experience would be, by its very nature, a session jam packed of content the children need to make note of and remember such as deadlines to meet, websites to visit and paperwork procedures to follow.”

The OFSTED reports for the inspections carried out just before the summer holiday showed plenty of examples of what Gove described. Here are a few, which weren’t hard to find, all from inspections in July (the relevant school’s name is listed in brackets afterwards):

It is not yet an outstanding school because students do not have the opportunity to learn by themselves often enough because lessons are sometimes too dominated by the teacher…

Teachers are keen to ensure that students have the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in examinations. However, they are sometimes so zealous in trying to convey knowledge that they spend too long talking at the students and do not give them enough time or opportunity to find things out for themselves.

(Wymondham High Academy Trust)

It is not yet an outstanding school because… in a few lessons, teachers talk for too long. This does not allow enough time for pupils to work by themselves.

…Occasionally pupils have too little time to work by themselves when teachers talk to them for too long.

(Dymchurch County Primary School)

Teaching does not always promote pupils being independent in lessons; sometimes, they are too reliant on adult support so their progress is restricted…

Progress is limited, too, when teaching fails to make enough demands upon pupils to work independently and, as a result, they become too reliant on adult support.

(Elmhurst School)

Pupils show that they are capable of undertaking open-ended tasks to challenge their thinking and boost their independence, but are not given enough opportunities to do so.

(St Margaret’s, Collier Street Church of England Voluntary Controlled School)

In less successful lessons students are not given the opportunity to reflect on their learning or try out ideas because the teacher talks about ideas for a lengthy period of time.

(Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School)

It is not yet an outstanding school because … in some lessons the pace of learning slows because teachers talk for too long and do not take enough account of students’ ideas…

There are occasions when the lesson is dominated by the teacher and students do not have sufficient opportunity to share their own ideas. When this happens the pace of learning slows.

(Lea Valley High School)

In the lessons that required improvement, work did not sufficiently challenge students or enable them to practise their skills and the pace of learning was slowed. This was often because teachers spent too long explaining and did not allow students enough time to do their individual work or work with others.

(Grace Academy Darlaston)

Students …. are able to work independently without too much teacher intervention.

…Some sixth form lessons have a slow pace, are too dominated by the teacher

(Springwood High School)

Teaching that is not yet outstanding tends to be overly formulaic and does not free students up to explore or contribute more widely.

(Trinity Academy)

…too often, teachers ask questions which just confirm what students know rather than developing their understanding of the subject.

In a few lessons, such as a Year 9 performing arts lesson, students are given the opportunity to take total responsibility for their learning. In this lesson, the teacher, because she knew the ability of the students so well, arranged the groups so all students had a role which challenged them. In their groups they supported each other exceptionally well, making sure each of them participated and was listened to. Excellent questioning, and a focus on understanding and using keywords, all contributed to the students making outstanding progress.

(Cleethorpes Academy)

There is little reason here to think OFSTED has changed its preferred teaching style. It is still independence and discovery that is celebrated and teacher talk that is condemned very often simply for being teacher talk. I don’t want to suggest that there is never a problem with teacher talk and that it would be fine just to lecture, but reports which condemn teacher talk for its quantity, rather than its quality, suggest an ideological position about the best way to learn that still urgently needs to be addressed. Let’s hope Gove is right and it will be.

Additional note:

Another curiosity in a report was this:

Teachers have become more effective in sharing the objectives for learning with students, but still do not do this well enough in all lessons.

(The Marlowe Academy)

This might be fair comment but it is hard to see how it fits with Michael Wilshaw’s expressed opinion that:

…OFSTED, should be wary of trying to prescribe a particular style of teaching, whether it be a three part lesson; an insistence that there should be a balance between teacher led activities and independent learning, or that the lesson should start with aims and objectives with a plenary at the end and so on and so forth.


  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Ofsted reports are now so homogeneous in style that it would not surprise me if we learnt that cloze procedure forms the basis for most of them.

  3. I had a sudden thought when reading this (steady on Rob!) – maybe the inspectors ARE seeing too much teacher talk because when they are in the room teachers get nervous and in an attempt to be ‘doing something’ they DO talk for too long.

    OR maybe the teachers over-talk as they worry when they stop the kids might piss about.

    OR maybe the inspectors see so many lessons ANY talk is irritating and SEEMS over long to them.

    OR maybe you are right- they are dogmatic about teacher talk full stop.

    ps I have now taken to banning new staff from putting up objectives. Turns off the kids. Formulaic and infantile- don’t need it.

    pps I must admit- I have seen some trainee teachers talk for too long in lessons- and I suspect some experienced teachers might do too.

    but i still think you have uncovered a real issue about inspection bias- I would like to hear Wilshaw talk about this soon.

    • I’ve seen trainees talk in unproductive ways. Often it is making a hash of setting the work rather than any explanations that take the time.

      However, I would not get out the stopwatch. It is the effectiveness of the talking which matters, not the quantity.

    • Banning new teachers from putting up objectives is just as bad as insisting they are always written down. In some subjects they make a real difference in others perhaps less so.

      • I have found that if I do not ban them then they put them up by mindless default.

        It’s a waste of time, its annoying for the kids, the teacher and observers.

        in my humble onions, Rob

  4. I thought that appallingly trite call for teachers to be, “a guide on the side: not a sage on the stage” had been given the pauper’s burial it so obviously deserved, but from your evidence it looks as though it is still alive and kicking in Ofsted. But then it was probably coined by an Ofsted inspector.

  5. Agreed. And agreed again.

    ps I just watched Mike Gove kick Will Self’s arse on Question Time.

    I mean Gove is not exactly popular with my colleagues right now, with the strikes an all, but I must confess he was on form tonight.

  6. […] Teaching in British schools « When will OFSTED change? […]

  7. […] Gove made a speech in the summer (quoted here) which claimed OFSTED would stop its past practices of condemning teacher talk and teachers […]

  8. […] who has experienced them, that they actually promote mindless box-ticking . Even Gove has been more critical of OFSTED’s behaviour than this. Labour urgently needs to stop accepting parts of the […]

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