Have OFSTED Changed Yet?

January 7, 2014

As I reported previously, OFSTED changed their inspection guidance on the 23rd December 2013 to make it far clearer that particular types of teaching (particularly reduced teacher talk, “independent” learning or lots of different activities) were no longer required. Obviously, inspections carried out since then won’t have been published, but reports for inspections carried out before Christmas have been published since the guidance changed. You may be wondering if there are any signs of improvement.

These are from reports with a publication date later than the 23rd December.

However, a small number of teachers do not involve students sufficiently in discussion…  Even the youngest in Year 9 … show they can sustain their commitment to work without having to rely on direct adult supervision.

King Edward VI Church of England Voluntary Controlled Upper School

This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … students have not always been required to find things out for themselves and thus take more responsibility for their own learning. On occasions, students are not given sufficient opportunities to support their classmates in their learning.

What does the school need to do to improve further?… Embed the good and exemplary classroom practice which already exists … by: developing students’ independent learning skills so that they can take more responsibility for their own progress [and] ensuring students are given even more opportunities to support one another in the classroom and act as extra resources for the learning of their classmates…

In the best lessons, for example a Year 8 ICT lesson in which teaching was judged outstanding, students are required to think for themselves and are also encouraged to support their classmates when they are finding things difficult. … On occasions, however, students’ independent learning skills are not fully developed and they are not expected to take sufficient responsibility for their own progress, nor are they encouraged to support their peers in their learning.

John Ruskin School (Cumbria)

Teaching is typically characterised by … the provision of a variety of well-constructed activities, … opportunities for students to work collaboratively…  In less-effective lessons teachers provide too many answers themselves and their questioning does not allow or encourage students to think for themselves…

Parrs Wood High School

What does the school need to do to improve further? … Improve teaching further so that more is outstanding by ensuring that:
students are encouraged and have more opportunities to take more responsibility for their own learning…

…Occasionally, however, teachers … hold centre stage too often and students spend too long listening when they are keen to get on with their own, independent learning. This results in some passivity towards learning.

In the majority of lessons students have positive attitudes towards learning. However, sometimes students would rather sit back and let the teacher do the work for them.

Cardinal Newman Catholic High School (Cheshire)

And the one that got me looking at this, after @miconm and @Samfr pointed it out on Twitter, is for a school which was previously outstanding but is now only good, despite an excellent reputation (particularly for discipline) and progress from KS1 to KS2 appearing to be much better than in similar schools.

It is not yet an outstanding school because … Pupils, particularly the youngest children and the more able, are not encouraged enough to work independently…

What does the school need to do to improve further? Improve teaching so that more is consistently good and outstanding by… giving pupils more opportunities to work on their own and to deepen their knowledge through activities that promote discussion, collaboration and challenge…

Pupils … like lessons where they are actively involved. Older pupils told inspectors, ‘talking together increases our knowledge, the best learning is when we have lots of discussion and interaction.’ Lessons seen across the academy did not always encourage and promote this independence or collaborative learning…

Teaching requires improvement when teachers talk for too long so pupils do not get enough opportunities to work alone or in groups. In Key Stage 1 too many worksheets in books mean that pupils do not have enough opportunities to write independently…

Behaviour is not outstanding because pupils do not display a thirst for learning or take enough responsibility for their own learning.

Durand Academy

I realise these inspections took place, and the reports were probably drafted, before the new guidance which means the inspectors have not necessarily been any more negligent or incompetent than usual. However, how can the judgements in these reports, which will have had a huge impact on those schools and on individual teachers have any credibility at all, given that OFSTED have since made it clear that inspectors should not be saying the things they have said in the reports? How can these judgements possibly be allowed to stand?


  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. I have begun wondering about how my own (excellent) secondary school would have fared under Ofsted. I have a theory that our RE/history teacher also had the job of teaching us to take dictation at a furious rate (Y7), and as we went on to take (non-verbatim) notes (note: teaching us a skill without is realising). A skill I needed when faced with lectures at university and beyond, and which served me well in other lessons. They weren’t the most exciting lessons on the planet, but I started agnostic and became a vicar in the end, and I look at my university notes (maths) with amazement at how I did it. Mrs Harrison delivered basic Christianity at a ferocious pace, and a basic skill, which is only learned by practice and repetition, rather more slowly. My guess is that she did it so the other teachers didn’t have to – they knew it was covered. To me that illustrates a difference between “lesson”, “subject” and “curriculum”. I think any lesson observer would have said “requires improvement” most of the time. We learned a huge amount about the subject, and a valuable skill – applicable to all our learning – both to very high levels. RE, being a compulsory subject even if we were not taking GCSE, expanded in scope once O levels were in prospect – that’s when the discussion got going. Is there such a thing as (attempted) premature consolidation of learning?

  3. It will be interesting to see if OFSTED interpret teaching methods in the same way as you are doing. I’m trying to envisage a report that makes no judgements about what is observed. It would be reduced to results analysis wouldn’t it? Well I suppose they could describe what they see without making a judgement but that is one thing inspectors are told not to do. That would then mean OFSTED was happy to say that the only thing that really matters in a school are the exam results. No spiritual, moral, social or cultural dimension. Nothing much on healthy living, safety or emotional development either. Nothing on opportunities for participating in teams, developing leadership? And while it might be arguable that in some subjects collaborative learning is undesirable its certainly essential in others. None of these clips say much about the subjects or the outcomes in them so it is difficult to say whether the reasons are justified or not. If the results in a subject were not as good in one lesson as in another and a judgement is made about what was observed on that basis would you object? On independent learning, it might be considered that producing independence is an educational goal in its own right. In other words independence is a learning outcome not a teaching method but without an expectation of independence, its unlikely to be learnt. You are then into an argument about the purpose of education rather than teaching methods. I anticipate you saying independence can’t be taught but I think you are going to have a hard time proving that.

  4. Indeed how can they possibly be allowed to stand!?

  5. The most recent supplementary subject-specific guidance (Dec 2013) appears to still require the same sort of ‘skills’ and ‘independent learning’ for an outstanding or good lesson though.

    In mathematics for example: Outstanding – “Pupils develop a broad range of skills in using and applying mathematics. They show exceptional independence and take the initiative in solving problems in a wide range of contexts, including the new or unusual.” Good – “Pupils develop a range of skills in using and applying mathematics. They are able to work independently, and sometimes take the initiative in solving problems in various contexts.”

    In science: Outstanding – “Pupils show exceptional independence.” Good – “Pupils regularly work independently, often taking the initiative in individual work and when working with others.”

    This appears to rather contradict the subsidiary guidance supporting the inspection of maintained schools and academies… “Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable.”

    • I still think there is a problem with interpreting independence as a teaching method. I think teaching people to be independent is easily arguable a learning outcome so I doubt OFSTED are going to stop expecting to see evidence of it in at least some lessons. They say they don’t expect to see evidence of it in all lessons. That is not the same as saying its OK to do it not at all or not to a reasonable extent. Of course what is reasonable then comes down to a judgement but that is the case for a lot of inspection work. Unless OFSTED give up entirely I can not see them ceasing to make judgements, that is in their DNA. Neither can I see most people not thinking that independence is a valid learning outcome, least of all employers, even if it is difficult to achieve.

      • What would evidence of independence (as a learning outcome) be? This has become an issue because inspectors have acted as if students should be teaching themselves, or each other, while teachers should be careful not to dominate the lesson or talk for too long. This has continued even after all references to “independence”, other than a statement that inspectors were not meant to be looking for independence in every lesson, were removed from the handbook. I see talk of “independence” as fundamentally unhelpful, because while we might find ways to interpret it as a desirable learning outcome, what it means to see evidence of independence when inspecting is unlikely to ever mean anything other than a particular style of lesson.

        • Èvidence is observing children working independently, evidence of outcomes produced independently and responses from children about their work demonstrating that they have developed attitudes and values we associate with independent thinking. Working cooperatively in groups and working cooperatively with their teachers too. It’s a matter of balance not all one thing or another. Might well be more difficult to measure with precision than say exam result stats but then not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.

      • An objective measure of independent learning as an *outcome* might be to track how students go on to do after school (e.g. how they cope at university / drop out rates). However, recent evidence (Willingham, Kirschner, etc) appears to point to the idea that minimal guidance during learning (aka “working independently”) can undermine the acquisition of the domain knowledge and conceptual understanding that students need to genuinely learn independently! Isn’t that one of the reasons why the inspection guidance was changed?

        It just seems to me that the subject-specific guidance appears to contradict this – inviting criticism of direct instruction methods and meaning that school leaders are unclear about what Ofsted expects to see.

        • I suppose you didn’t see Gareth Malone using independent learning to turn round boys literacy in a school when all the pressure was on him to conform to traditional teacher dominated activities? http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ty707

          But really it doesn’t matter about any of this because I suspect OFSTED will disagree with you and so will many other people who believe a rounded education is more than just cognitive domain knowledge. Even getting rid of OFSTED won’t change that. Skills eg in sport, art, music, interest and motivation coming from context as Gareth demonstrated. The limbic system interacts with and influences cognition too and is highly susceptible to context.

          I’m not too surprised that the subject specific guidance surprises you. The issue is how you interpret cognitive research in the wider context of all things education and you guys seem to have a much narrower view of education than most other people.

          • I suspect you are right that it will be difficult to break this orthodoxy, but the results of it are becoming increasingly obvious.

          • Now I feel you are stereotyping my position. I didn’t say there was no place at all for independent work – the psychological evidence suggests that autonomy and social interaction are both intrinsically motivating, so it has its uses! My concern is that, despite the evidence for its effectiveness, there is still significant bias against direct instruction methods. What I want is to be able to make these pedagogic decisions based on a thoughtful review of evidence and professional judgement – rather than because of an ideological bias on the part of the regulator. If I appear to be arguing more for direct instruction approaches, it is because their effectiveness has been (imho) frequently overlooked and devalued.

            These are all tools in the box, aren’t they? I just want to be able to choose the tool that works (for this kid, class, topic, subject …). My point was that the subject-specific guidance simply appears to contradict the inspection guidance in emphasising one methodology over another.

  6. […] you may recall, I pointed out (on January 7th 2014) that some of the schools inspected before the new guidance (which clearly […]

  7. […] despite carefully checking all the dates so as to avoid an overlap with my previous post on the same theme I completely missed something else about the dates. They stopped last weekend, […]

  8. […] reports) and how they seemed to have stopped publishing new reports. This was after I had blogged (here) about how various reports, including the two altered ones, had contradicted the latest guidance. […]

  9. […] As I mentioned, I lived through the Blair years and I learnt that education systems are spectacularly good at spending money on initiatives that feel good but lack any strong evidence. There is also a lack of willingness to critically review these initiatives when they are up and running. In the 2000s in England we saw educational progressivism take the lead. I had to attend training on the “Four Deeps”, we had to build “Personal Learning and Thinking Skills” (PLTS) into the curriculum – my school adopted the absurdly formulaic “Building Learning Power” approach – and the English schools inspectorate would visit schools, observe teachers and criticise them for talking too much or not utilising enough group work. […]

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