More OFSTED Nonsense

November 5, 2013

Just in case you’ve not been keeping up, a quick summary of the developments regarding OFSTED. I’ve been blogging about.

  • Michael Wilshaw made a speech in February 2012 claiming there was no OFSTED teaching style and praising a “didactic” maths teacher which was confirmed in a new draft of the OFSTED handbook in summer 2012 which indicated there was no preferred teaching style and said that inspectors would not be looking for “independence” in every lesson (as blogged here).
  • He made another speech (which I quoted here) which made the same point and even described a “fairly boring” lesson as “fine”
  • A new handbook in the summer of 2013 made the point about there being no preferred style of teaching even more explicit (described here).
  • Michael Gove made a speech in the summer (quoted here) which claimed OFSTED would stop its past practices of condemning teacher talk and teachers “dominating the discussion”.

Every so often I have a look as to how this is going by taking a glance through a selection of recent OFSTED reports. Taking some from early October, I haven’t yet found any of the usual complaints about teachers talking too much, but still plenty of trendy nonsense that makes uncomfortable reading for traditional teachers. All of these are from October inspections, the school is identified underneath.

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because… Pupils are not consistently given opportunities to work in groups or on their own to lead their own learning…

What does the school need to do to improve further? …a higher proportion of all lessons provide pupils with more opportunities to lead their own learning, individually or in groups.

From St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School (in Stoke-on-Trent)

It is not yet an outstanding school because … In a few lessons, teachers do not get students to work sufficiently independently on engaging activities…

What does the school need to do to improve further? …Raise achievement … by …ensuring students work independently as much as possible on engaging activities…

From Hetton School

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because… There is too much teaching which does not allow students to take responsibility for their own learning…

Students are not always given enough chances to take responsibility for their learning by taking part in structured, collaborative activities.

From Millbrook Academy

It is not yet an outstanding school because … Sometimes students’ progress slows because they are not given enough opportunities to learn without the help of the teacher…

What does the school need to do to improve further? … Build on the strengths of teaching, so that more is outstanding, by:
broadening the range of strategies to promote students’ active and independent learning…

Occasionally students are restrained from expressing their curiosity and taking control of their learning because teachers sometime over structure and control the lessons.

From The Greneway School

It is not yet an outstanding school because… Teachers do not always give pupils regular opportunity to plan their own lines of enquiry and to set their own learning challenges. Pupils sometimes wait for the teacher’s direction rather than thinking for themselves how to complete and extend tasks…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Move teaching to outstanding by ensuring that all teachers …give pupils regular opportunities to plan their own lines of enquiry and to decide for themselves how to complete tasks … support pupils in setting challenges for themselves when they finish tasks.

When pupils work on their own, teachers do not always check that they use targets and marking ‘ladders’ to help them improve their learning independently. Sometimes, pupils who finish tasks quickly wait for an adult to give them extra challenges rather than challenging themselves…

Teachers give pupils a clear method of how to complete tasks and so pupils are nearly always successful. However, this sometimes stops pupils from following their own lines of enquiry or thinking of their own methods for solving problems, and so holds back the development of independent learning skills.

From St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School (Telford)

What does the school need to do to improve further? By July 2014, improve teaching and so raise achievement in all subjects so they both become at least good by… helping pupils to use and apply their mathematics skills through solving problems and real-life situations rather than spending long periods of time doing repetitive calculations…

In mathematics, pupils spend long periods of time doing calculations. Sometimes they manage these calculations well, only to be given another batch of simpler calculations to do. This means that pupils are not learning how to use and apply their mathematics skills through problem solving or in real-life situations.

Burton Pidsea Primary School

As ever, OFSTED find time to praise the trendiest possible lesson:

In an English lesson where teaching was excellent, students were asked to work in pairs to mime their interpretation of characters’ motivations in a text. After working out their mimes, they were required to act them out for others in the class to interpret and evaluate. All students progressed well during this process, which both motivated and inspired them to reflect. Final analyses evidenced thoughtful answers which the teacher ably probed through targeted questioning of individual students, enabling them to develop their thinking still further.

The Sir Robert Woodard Academy

And one of the trendiest education fads makes what may be its first appearance in an OFSTED report, and gets the official seal of approval:

The school has the following strengths… Leaders’ approach to developing ‘mindfulness’ is having a positive effect on students’ well-being and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

I don’t want to suggest nobody tells me about more positive experiences with OFSTED, but clearly in many schools the inspectors are still partisan advocates of progressive education condemning those who won’t conform to their ideology and praising those who do.

Update 6/11/2013:

I spoke too soon on the “teacher talk” aspect. The following comment on another early October inspection was pointed out to me on Twitter:

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because… Many teachers take up too much lessons time talking and this leaves too little time for students to complete activities.

From Harper Green School

Although it is noticeable that, unusually, this does not seem to be followed up in the teaching and learning section of the report. However, this section does include another example of what might be studied in an OFSTED approved English lesson:

When teaching is good however, tasks and activities are planned in suitable steps so their understanding and knowledge are steadily developed. … In a Year 10 English lesson, for example, the teacher probed students’ answers to make sure they could identify sophisticated dynamics in a conversation with Alan Sugar in The Apprentice.


  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. “Sometimes they manage these calculations well, only to be given another batch of simpler calculations to do.”

    Giving them simpler ones does seem odd. However:

    “This means that pupils are not learning how to use and apply their mathematics skills through problem solving or in real-life situations.”

    Does it? I’d like to see the evidence that practise in basic numeracy means they are not learning to ‘problem solve’ (whatever than means) or deal with ‘real-life situations’, as my experience is that those with string numeracy skills are much more likely to be able to deal with trasnfering the abstract to the practical.

    And, talking of “simpler calculations”, most of the so-called “functional skills” (“real life?”) problems involve much simpler calculations…..

  3. What, in the same of Satan, is “mindfulness”?

  4. OK, it might be that the English teacher encouraging mime did have a successful lesson. This would be because if the class were committed to the task they may have thought deeply about the characters in planning their mime sequence. However, the Ofsted report goes far beyond this in it’s advocacy of the mime lesson. In reality, the whole success of the lesson is not based on the mime part but actually reliant on how successfully the teacher managed the planning stage so the kids’ mimes were informed by an already strong understanding of the characters. Of course the Ofsted report has no focus on this point. After all, mime is not actually an effective way for the average school student to communicate the nuanced aspects of characterisation. The work had to be already done. The discussion the teacher drew out from the mime may have been decent but the act itself, the mime, could not add a great deal. There is the classic mistake in this, as in other fun activities designed to build understanding. That mistake is to think that the activity ITSELF (mimeing) creates understanding which previously did not exist. The best of these sort of activities can only consolidate. How frequently do teachers plan fun activities and then take consolation in the fact that a minority in the class were really able to run with that activity and make something of it? In fact that group were the ones who already brought understanding to the activity.
    Therefore the only justification for choosing mime is because the kids may find it motivating and thus be more likely to work hard at the planning stage. Given that the approach is massively time consuming and kids are as likely to be distracted or focus on how they will act rather than digging deep into nuanced characterisation, the benefits are dubious. Finally the Ofsted report will inevitably send a message that mime is a good activity and as OA says this is ridiculous. I have been known to use ‘fun activities’ as a hook but it is clear this lesson is praised because mime was used. It is always the gimmick lesson that is singled out for praise when in fact it is the teacher’s skill in building understanding that leads to progress whatever the activity chosen.

    • But how do we know that they were leaning English when miming? Perhaps they were miming in Italian?

      • Didn’t you realise that they were actually learning the twenty first century skill of cooperation?
        BTW I did, of course, mean ‘miming’ in the above point.

  5. OA, just wondering.

    In your reviews of Ofsted reports have you happened across any reports which include comments such as “The teaching at the school is outstanding. Many lessons were observed where the teachers provided strong exemplars on the IWB while the learners copied them into their books for future reference and they were encouraged to ask questions to further their understanding. The learners then consolidated their learning with a sustained period of individual work in silence while the teacher visited many of them providing individual differentiated support…”


    • I found one or two, not this time round but when researching the previous post on this theme, which praised explanations. That’s really about as far as it goes.

  6. Far be it from me to suggest that all is well in the world of Ofsted inspections, but comparing this post to your previous one on the same theme, I get the impression that there may have been some movement in the right direction of judging lessons by the outcome rather than the teaching style – it feels to me as if you’ve had to work a little harder to find the bad stuff but maybe you were just looking over a shorter period so had fewer reports to draw from.

    Also “Many teachers take up too much lesson time talking and this leaves too little time for students to complete activities” could be just a reaction to teacher talk, but I’ve seen a fair few lessons where the teacher’s explanation went on well beyond what was needed and used up time that could have been better employed getting the pupils to practice and apply.

    I also get that “The Apprentice” is pretty low-brow but my interpretation of that statement is that it’s the rest of the paragraph to which attention is being drawn rather than the chosen context. I appreciate that’s open to interpretation though.

    Keep up the good work, though – Ofsted reports aren’t everyone’s choice of bedtime reading and it may just be that Wilshaw, Gove and companions are appreciating the feedback too.

    • Actually it was easier than last month’s, although not as easy as last year. As explained on previous blogs, if teacher talk is ineffective or counterproductive then inspectors should comment on quality, not quantity. To comment on the latter implies that there is an official limit or even a presumption against.

  7. […] do you respond to that? I’ve no idea how widespread this view is, but it would appear that Old Andrew’s continuing campaign against ‘rogue’ inspectors enforcing a progressiv… is entirely […]

  8. […] positive stories in recent months from people who were being inspected, but when I was researching this post by flicking through OFSTED reports from inspections in early October I was amazed that it was as […]

  9. […] regular trawl through recent 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 […]

  10. […] I recently commented on some of the problems I have with OFSTED grading the Quality of Teaching during an inspection. I was thus pleasantly surprised to hear about an anecdote of OFSTED training that tended to emphasise what was being learnt ahead of a preferred method of teaching. This is exactly what Sir Michael Wilshaw has been saying for some time, but has not been borne out in inspections. […]

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