New Academic Year. New Inspection Handbook. Same Old OFSTED

October 6, 2013

If you haven’t seen it yet, there is a new website http://www.watchsted.com/ which makes it a lot easier to look at recent OFSTED reports. For this reason, it has been very easy for me to check if the new OFSTED handbook has changed the extent to which OFSTED condemn teachers for talking and praise independent work, group work, discussion and discovery learning.

My (subjective) conclusion? Perhaps they’ve changed a little. There don’t seem to be quite as many complaints about teachers talking or dominating their lessons. However, if anything, there seem to be more references to students finding things out for themselves. Certainly, there still seems to be an OFSTED ideal for lessons, still firmly wedded to the ideology of child-centred education which sees children as actively controlling their own learning rather than being instructed how to to learn by a teacher.

The extracts from reports that appear here are all from September inspections, so they were carried out with the new handbook and after these recent comments about OFSTED from Michael Gove:

… 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 names of the schools are in brackets after each quotation.


Firstly we can see that teachers are still being judged for quantity, not quality, of what they say:

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because… At times, teachers limit the time students have to work actively and reflect on their learning during lessons by talking too much…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Make more teaching consistently good or better across the school by making sure that: teachers do not limit the time for students’ active learning by talking at them for too long…

In the best lessons teachers enable students to slake their thirst for knowledge through active involvement, discussion, debate and reflection on their learning. However, too many teachers simply talk too much at the students. This limits the time for active learning; the attention of some students, particularly boys, wanders and they can become distracted.

(Granville Sports College)


Where teaching is less effective, teachers are inclined to dominate the lesson…

(South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy)


Where teaching requires improvement, work does not sufficiently challenge students or enable them to practise their skills and the pace of learning slows. This is often because teachers spend too long explaining and do not allow students enough time to do their individual work or work with others.

(The Robert Smyth Academy)


Independence, group work, discussion and discovery learning  are still the ideal:

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because…Teaching does not always encourage students to think and learn for themselves…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Improve the quality of teaching so that it is more consistently good or better by ensuring that: … opportunities are provided for students to learn in small groups, pairs and on their own so that they develop good independent study habits…

Students enjoy learning independently or in small groups and pairs but, in lessons where the teaching is weaker, they have too few opportunities to do so. As a result, though they are keen to learn, they are not acquiring consistently good study habits, such as the ability to search out facts or question their own understanding.

(Hasland Hall Community School)


This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because… Students are not always given opportunities to be actively involved in their learning and finding things out for themselves…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Improve the quality of teaching so that it is consistently good or better in all subjects so that all groups of students make at least good progress by:… involving students fully in their own learning through group work, discussion and problem solving activities…

Too often, teachers do not allow students to learn for themselves, solve problems and share their learning in groups or through whole class and small group discussion.

(Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College)


Challenge in lessons is sometimes inconsistent and students, in particular the most able, are not always required to find things out for themselves…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Continue to accelerate students’ progress and raise their attainment by: ensuring the challenge in lessons, particularly for the most able, is consistently high enough and gives them more opportunities to find things out for themselves…

…in a Year 9 physical education lesson, students took increasing responsibility for their own learning…

Students are given many opportunities to work in pairs and in groups and to act as extra learning resources for each other. They therefore develop independent learning skills and do not rely purely on the teacher to ensure they make progress.

(Sharples School Science Specialist College)


In less successful lessons, teachers delivered uninspiring learning tasks or did not allow students to think for themselves sufficiently, thereby limiting progress, especially of the most able.

(Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School)


This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because: … Pupils are not provided with consistent opportunities to develop knowledge and understanding for themselves through independent learning.

What does the school need to do to improve further? … Raise levels of achievement across all subjects and in all years, but especially in English and mathematics in Year 6, so that a greater proportion make and exceed expected levels of progress by … providing more opportunities for pupils to work independently and research ideas and answers for themselves….

Over time, teaching is not consistently of a sufficiently high quality to ensure that all pupils make at least good progress. Opportunities for pupils to work independently and research knowledge, ideas and answers for themselves are rarely provided.

(Shepshed High School)


A minority of teachers miss opportunities to involve students fully in their learning because they do not provide sufficient tasks where students can contribute their ideas or learn actively…

Where teaching is less effective, teachers are inclined to dominate the lesson rather than providing a variety of activities which enable students to contribute fully to their learning and to develop their independence.

(South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy)


This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Students’ attitudes to learning and their ability to learn independently require improvement…

Typically, teaching is good or better where it is well planned and clear learning objectives for students are identified. Activities engage the whole class and there is some group and paired work. Teachers ask questions to help guide learning; however, there are fewer opportunities for students to ask questions of each other

(The Robert Smyth Academy)


This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because… Too many lessons have a slow pace, with activities that do not require pupils to think about their learning and discuss their ideas…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Promote consistently good progress in all lessons by making sure that teachers: provide activities that encourage pupils to think about their learning and discuss their ideas…

Pupils are not always challenged enough … by the opportunity to learn through discussion and explore their ideas.

(Litcham School)


What inspectors think makes a great lesson is still as trendy as ever:

In the very best lessons, teachers fire the pupils’ love for learning. They ask searching questions and plan exciting activities. For example, the imaginations of Year 1 pupils were stimulated when they were ‘transported to the classroom beach’. Pupils explored seaweed, paddled in water and felt the sand with the sounds of seagulls in the background.

(St Stephen’s Church of England Primary School)


Year 7 students made good progress in a science lesson where the teaching gave the students the freedom to work together, in pairs and groups, exploring the structure of plant and animal cells. The students were clearly enjoying the opportunity to investigate and develop new learning, and there was good challenge for all groups of students. They were also picking up successfully on the teacher’s approach and asking each other pertinent questions.

(Granville Sports College)


In the best lessons, a key strength is the teachers’ focus on promoting students’ independence. … In an outstanding business studies lesson in Year 12 the teacher acted as facilitator to establish an exciting task and high quality learning. One student commented, ‘this lesson is exciting. We learn so much!’ Likewise throughout the school, are promoting the fun of learning through enjoyable tasks and their well prepared resources, including the provision of electronic tablet devices, results in a buzz of activity and excitement.

(South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy)


In the most effective lessons, the tasks and activities engage and motivate students, the pace of learning is rapid and students make good progress. For example, in a technology lesson in Year 13, there was a good balance of individual work and group work. Resources were used well to explain and reinforce learning, and the teacher asked probing questions to encourage students to develop their thinking skills.

(The Robert Smyth Academy)


Where teaching was best in the GCSE lessons seen, students made good progress because their teachers allowed time to discuss progress throughout the lesson, showed them carefully what they needed to do, and encouraged a good level of student involvement in the tasks through well-chosen opportunities to work independently. Students responded well to the challenge to use their skills of analysis and reflection, maintaining good levels of concentration.

(Litcham School)


As I said, I think there are changes. An almost obsessive preoccupation with differentiated work and a particular style of marking is now very noticeable, and there are some positive comments about explanations. But overall, and not surprisingly, those doing inspection don’t seem to have changed their mind about what good teaching and learning looks like.  While, no doubt, I will get the usual complaints that inspectors just happened to have seen really good progressive lessons and really bad traditional lessons and intended to refer only to the quality of lessons, not the style, it is still the same progressive model, looking like a fashionable primary school from the late 1960s, that schools will be encouraging in their classrooms if they want to get through OFSTED safely.



  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. OA

    I have been following your posts regarding Ofsted and I appreciate the time you have spent trawling through the Ofsted stuff. I am sure it would depress me too much to do so myself so I thank you.

    While I don’t always find the comments regarding independent learning, group learning and so on are too upsetting I do find that there is little appreciation ever of the appropriateness of teacher controlled instruction or independent learning, groupwork etc used ineffectlively.

    I am not suggesting for one moment that you are trying to deceive. In this post you have pointed out a number of examples which illustrate your point. Did you find some any comments at all criticising the way that the “progressive” (don’t like the term but it sums up one side of your discussion) approach has been used in a negative way or indeed any examples at all of teacher led being praised. I am not thinking just of time spent on explicit teaching but on the approach generally.

    I am persuaded by your examples but just wonder whether there was any evidence from the other side.

    Thanks again for the work put into the analysis.

  3. Your simile “like a fashionable primary school from the late 1960s” would have made me smile… if it wasn’t so costly for the thousands of children concerned.

    I do think you are absolutely justified in interrogating closely the reports Ofsted are producing. I read a recent report on a school which consistently features in the top 30 in GCSE league tables. Ofsted decided the teaching was only “good” and not “outstanding”. They gave only two reasons for this and one was: “Observation in lessons by leaders and managers does not give enough consideration to the impact of teaching on students’ learning.”

    The idea that a school which consistently gains their level of achievement isn’t “outstanding” in a national, never mind global context, is in itself curious, but the implication that Ofsted appears to regard this kind of intrusive observation of lessons by senior managers as a requirement for an “outstanding” level to be achieved, smacks of self justification to me.

    Having observed hundreds of lessons…I doubt anyone’s ability to make that kind of judgement meaningfully in a live lesson. It will have been based on one or two questions to one or two pupils, and at best this may have been repeated by more than one inspector for them to reach this overall conclusion. Hardly empirical evidence that teaching in this school isn’t generally “excellent.”

  4. I have just read your findings of independent learning in the classroom, and found it beneficial as I am in the process of writing a essay on ‘promoting choice and independence in learning. I would appreciate you sending me any documents on this subject, as it would not only further my knowledge, but help greatly in my research.
    PGCE Student.

  5. […] OFSTED reports. I had written about some reports from early October here, and some from September here. For both of those two previous blogposts I had easily found OFSTED reports which showed a clear […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: