I’ll Accept No Excuses for OFSTEDSeptember 27, 2013
My last blogpost listed a whole bunch of examples of recent OFSTED publications which showed an organisation still wedded to the progressive orthodoxy that teacher talk is bad and students should work independently and maybe even discover things for themselves. There was one particular line of response to this I was expecting, and I did predict it, but I didn’t predict where it would come from. Mary Myatt, who was an OFSTED inspector who was lead inspector on one of the inspections whose reports I quoted and also writes a rather good blog, blogged the following in response:
First of all, teacher talk is neither good or bad per se. But the quality of teacher talk does matter. There are lessons where the teacher talks for a long time, but the talk is definitely adding to learning because it is usually explaining, outlining problems, highlighting difficulties and encouraging pupils to engage with the topic. Other lessons where the teacher is talking for too long are not contributing to learning. And this is usually because pupils already know what they are expected to do and are keen to get cracking. So we need to think about how much talk is needed and when to let the children start their own work. And again whether this work is silent and solitary or paired and voluble is neither good or bad in itself. It is good or bad in so far as it contributes to learning.
So I think Andrew has a case if the inspection reports he found had said that teaching was not outstanding because there was no use of six hats, coloured cups or Kagan structures etc. However the reports are identifying some of the things which stopped progress being as good as it might have been. So it is not unreasonable to say that in these circumstances the quality of teacher talk was not having the impact it might have had. [my italics]
I was expecting somebody to make the argument that just because OFSTED repeatedly attacks teacher talk, that doesn’t mean they are in any way against it. It just means they happen to have seen some teacher talk and, objectively and without prejudice, decided it was bad. Although I was expecting this argument to appear in the comments from one of my regular commentators rather than in a blog, I had done my best to pre-empt it. I had written:
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. [emphasis added]
I had added this to indicate that I would challenge any attempt to spin the OFSTED reports as condemning only particular instances of poor quality teacher talk rather than showing a hostility to teacher talk. Evidently I didn’t make this clear enough. So let me spell it out:
- I easily found multiple examples of teacher talk being condemned, I found only one example of an explanation being praised. This does not suggest neutrality.
- The phrases used explicitly complain about the quantity of teacher talk, not the quality. There were five separate instances of the words “too long” being used to describe talking or explaining. There were no explicit descriptions of the quality of the talk.
- Other phrases used showed clear preferences for teaching methods. It is apparently possible to be “too didactic” and for lessons to be “too dominated by the teacher” for OFSTED’s tastes. Students should be working “independently” and “find things out for themselves” or “explore”.
- This is an organisation whose bias against teacher talk has been observed or suggested countless times before. Enough times for the secretary of state for education to condemn it; enough times for consultants to offer courses in “Talkless Teaching” to impress inspectors; enough times for teachers up and down the country to report that they had been given arbitrary time limits on talking during lesson observations by their schools. It is also an organisation whose utterances are studied by schools to identify what is wanted. Even if the anti-teacher talk message in the reports was accidental, they are still culpable as the likely consequences are obvious.
So, no, this excuse fails to convince. If it convinces you, come back to me when you find a recent OFSTED report complaining that teachers did not spend enough time explaining content, that students spent too long working independently, or that learning was harmed by reliance on students discovering things for themselves rather than being told about them by their teachers.