The OFSTED Teaching Style R.I.P. (Part One)

September 18, 2015

I can’t resist passing on Sir Michael Wilshaw’s latest denial of the existence of an OFSTED teaching style as it seems particularly clear. The chief inspector appeared before the education committee of the House Of Commons on Wednesday, and was quizzed by Suella Fernandes, MP for Fareham (who I believe was chair of governors at Michaela Community School).

Suella Fernandes: Very quickly, just in terms of inspection. The guidance from Ofsted states that there is no preferred Ofsted teaching style. Do you agree that that is the case?

Sir Michael Wilshaw: Yes.

Suella Fernandes: There are different teaching styles that we have seen. There is more progressive teaching—with child-centred, facilitating, group work, a bit more independent learning—and, on the other hand, there is more traditional teaching, of a teacher standing at the front and desks in the row, and teachers giving out information. Do you honestly think that inspectors do judge teaching method fairly and not prefer a more progressive child-centred teaching style in schools?

Sir Michael Wilshaw: Inspectors admire the 1960s ideology? No. If we have any inspectors who prefer one style of teaching over another, where they see little or no impact? The important thing is impact, as far as we are concerned, the impact of teaching on progress and outcome. If you are saying to me, “Do we have an inspection workforce that prefers group work and uses the phrase “independent learning” more often than they should?” then, no, we don’t. If they did exist, they have been removed from the inspection workforce.

Suella Fernandes: Because, looking at Ofsted reports, it is clear there is a trend that favourable reports do praise independent learning and critical reports tend to criticise more traditional styles of education. There was a book recently written a few years ago by Daisy Christodoulou—“Seven Myths of Education”—and she is an expert in teaching and curriculum and an experienced teacher herself. She had 228 best practice Ofsted lessons set out. None of them were based on a traditional teaching method and were all along the lines of progressive child-centred, facilitating, more children teaching each other, progressive learning styles. The facts suggest otherwise, don’t they?

Sir Michael Wilshaw: If that was a culture that predominated in Ofsted years ago, we have changed it. We have changed it. I have made it my mission as chief inspector to change it. I want inspectors to see what impact teaching is having. If you have somebody standing out in front of the class and teaching well in a very didactic way but it is making a difference and children are learning, that is fine. If somebody is standing up in front of a class and lecturing children and they are not engaged, then that is not fine. If we are seeing group work, which is producing good outcomes—the best teacher I have ever seen in East London used to jump on her desk and teach from the desk and teach groups of children. The big issue for her was when she said, “Stop” the children stopped. She was very interventionist and because the school was a good one—the one I led—the discipline was so good that the children obeyed the teacher. The disciplinary structure supported the teacher. That is the issue. If any inspector at Ofsted favours one particular teaching style over another, they will not last long in our organisation.

Suella Fernandes: I urge you to look at the—I am sure you do, but—

Sir Michael Wilshaw: I know it is a big issue and it is a political issue. That may have been the case with a few inspectors years ago but is certainly not the case now. If I found any inspector that preferred one teaching style over another, they would not last long.

Please let me know if you have experienced something different.



  1. Michael Wilshaw is asking us to believe that in three years, he managed to do what Chris Woodhead failed to do in six. In his last book, he wrote “Ofsted has become a part of [the progressive] establishment, and arguably the most lethal part…”. I expect Wilshaw is very good at seeing what he wants to see.

    I hope you get a good response on this.

  2. It really is very hard to believe that a culture which had become ingrained over decades can be removed in just a few years. Also, surely it is possible for an inspector to write a damning report for doctrinaire reasons, but be careful not to mention those reasons in the wording of the judgement. There is very little comeback or redress for schools, as far as I know.

  3. […] and learning. This blog is my reflection on conversations I’ve had this week and beyond, and on this post about Ofsted and Teaching Styles, which is directly […]

  4. Clearly then, OFSTED gets a 4 for Leadership and Governance-or whatever it’s titled in the latest schedule- since he doesn’t know his own staff..or just what they’re up to. I used to have a bit of time for Wilshaw and his pronouncements. He’s obviously got the right ideas but he can’t implement them. Until I actually see inspectors follow through, he may as well “trouble deaf heaven with his bootless cries” because I’m not listening any more.

    I haven’t actually read it and I can only paraphrase but I used to work with a woman who was simply brilliant, though so old school it defies belief that she wasn’t kicked out on competency by some charmless little jobsworth years back. Her progress was outstanding and the kids behaved for her and loved her to bits. You can guess the phrasing..
    “In one lesson students were making outstanding progress despite a fairly regimented and uninspiring…”
    Almost as though it was some kind of fluke and she’d just struck lucky in a sort of stopped clock scenario.

    Nor am I impressed with: “The disciplinary structure supported the teacher.” with regard to the traditionalist’s approach. It almost allows for the interpretation that in a school with a less successful behaviour record, this wouldn’t succeed. I’d instead suggest that the teacher’s approach bolstered and reinforced the disciplinary structure.

    Wilshaw’s a busted flush as far as I can see. Means well, makes the right noises but can’t produce the goods. I wouldn’t be so critical were it not for the fact that the organisation he leads tends to eat up such types and spits them out with a side order of snide humiliation.
    F**k him.

  5. Until SLT changes, then it doesn’t really matter what he says. Having an inspector in the room (despite the high stakes for the school) is not high stakes for an individual teacher- at least not immediately. A low score from SLT ( and now that Ofsted do not score, why are SLT still doing it?) and you could be out in weeks, especially in an Academy.
    Anyway, even if there is no preferred “lesson style” there is very much a preferred “marking style” which is grinding down the workforce.

    • I actually doubt OFSTED do have preferred marking style. I really do think that’s a more general SLT paranoia driven problem. To quote from their clarification.

      Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.
      ■ While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback are used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.
      ■ If it is necessary for inspectors to identify marking as an area for improvement for a school, they will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.#

      To be fair, I have seen an inspector criticise management for encouraging overmarking and praise succinct but pertinent comments. I think it’s SLT who demand volume. They’re idiots. Happy unstressed teachers with time to stop and take an interest make all the difference. Overworked oppressed drones create an atmosphere nobody wants to be around.

  6. Fair point Rainbow about Ofsted not having an approved style of marking. It does come from SLT, who is pushing them in this direction if not Ofsted?

    • I think that management generally tend to resemble military commanders in their determination to always fight the war before last and in their wilful blindness to the tragedy that ensues. I don’t for a minute reject the notion that OFSTED inspectors, if not its leadership, cling to a progressive ethos and concomitant expectations as regards what they expect to see in a classroom.

      However, inspectors, like all of us, want to be liked…or at least respected on some level. I think they realise their widespread unpopularity stems largely from the heavy workload their existence induces and wish to do something about this. They have made it clear they don’t need lesson plans, bulging folders of planning evidence, particular formats of data etc. SLT, on the other hand, cleave to shit like this as some kind of security blanket; plus they think it proves they’re driving their staff hard and think this will win them some sort of kudos as ruthless corporate players. It’s madness. If nothing else, they fail to see that the sort of person given to child-centred, hippy dippy notions is hardly likely to admire your average wolf of Wall Street type.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think OFSTED have wrecked the chances of hundreds of thousands of kids-especially working class and disadvantaged kids-by ensuring a style of education that was never going to allow to compete with their more privileged peers. That said, I don’t think most inspectors have a desire to wreck the lives of teachers or to have turned the profession into a byword for stress, depression and shattered aspirations. The fault there lies with narrow-minded drones lacking imagination, compassion, empathy or a grip on reality. SLT retain an obsession with box ticking and paperwork which isn’t going to work for them. The new schedule appears to categorically state it will be data and what they see and hear in classrooms and around the school that will inform the judgement. Immaculate paperwork and policies won’t cut it. That, as I say, was the war before last.
      Speaking of wars, and God knows I’m not given to citing Churchill, but I’m going to quote him anyway…
      “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

      • As a history teacher, I couldn’t put it better myself. It is the cult of managerialism. It “proves” you are doing something, without any humanity. Having been on the end of an observation process, and the wrong end at that, I know we are here to be spat out by SLT to validate their credentials.

      • Re: “I think OFSTED have wrecked the chances of hundreds of thousands of kids-especially working class and disadvantaged kids-by ensuring a style of education that was never going to allow to compete with their more privileged peers.”

        Wasn’t that why the unions were so keen to get Ofsted inflicted on the Independent sector?

        So that the Independent sector would be forced down to the style imposed on the state sector by Ofsted and hence eliminate the disadvantage.

        Of course the real problem with that is that England might well be an island but it isn’t immune from international competition so dragging the independent sector down the Progressive route just shifts privilege to the Far East at an even faster rate. But that’s the sort of thing Unions have always had difficulty understanding.

  7. “Wasn’t that why the unions were so keen to get Ofsted inflicted on the Independent sector?”

    Or possibly, they reasoned that the parents of children in the independent sector would never stand for it, and let’s face it, it’s those parents who carry the real clout with the people who could muzzle OFSTED. I don’t doubt that if OFSTED ever tried to impose their prejudices on private schools, they’d be sorted out in no time.

    Imagine some hedge fund manager with contacts in all the right places discovering he’s paying £30000 a year for the privilege of having his kid express, through dance, what it feels like to be a prime number. Then the reaction at Tory Central Office as they get the call informing them they won’t be getting the cheque this year unless they can categorically guarantee him that the weirdo with the clip-board, who skulks around asking kids if they feel safe and valued and confident to express their culture, will never again darken the ornate doorway of St Shitloadsofcash.

    I’d give OFSTED about 6 months before they were ‘rationalised’ in the oh-so-noble cause of deficit reduction and so I say: send them in tomorrow.

  8. I think OFSTED is only half the problem. From my experience the selection of trainee teachers and their instruction at universities is controlled by the most dogmatic proponents of progressive teaching methods. Until the training establishments cease being controlled by people who are hell bent on keeping things just as they are then I can’t see anything changing soon.

  9. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  10. And don’t underestimate the continued influence of school improvement advisors/consultants that schools are compelled to fund and suffer scrutiny from in order to become ‘OFSTED Ready’.
    Here is a quote from one, Richard Sutton-Smith recently made Head of Standards and Improvement for East Sussex. (It’s from the prospectus presentation for the school at which he was until recently Headteacher)

    “If I want people to build a car, I don’t teach them first to cut, shape and join metal and glass, nor to understand the principles of the internal combustion engine. I teach them of the sheer joy and learning to be had from travelling to places unseen.”

    Sounds to me like progressivism at its most deranged is alive and well in East Sussex.

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