Do OFSTED criticise teachers who set the same work for everyone in a class?December 8, 2015
My take on the recent history of OFSTED is that after Sir Michael Wilshaw tried to shift inspectors away from looking for the “OFSTED lesson style”, and to look for things like a failure to close the gap or for progress over time, some schools became preoccupied with looking for particular things in lessons. Like triple marking (and the infamous green and purple pens). OFSTED were usually willing to say they weren’t looking for these things, but some inspectors were slow to get the message.
One of the things schools started claiming OFSTED were looking for was differentiation, and in particular, evidence that students were being set different work. In my experience, teachers were encouraged to structure lessons around multiple worksheets to ensure that students were working at different levels within the same class. OFSTED tried to clarify that they did not require this. The following was issued as guidance in December 2013:
[inspectors] should not … bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time. It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual.
This was quoted by HMCI in a letter to inspectors in January 2014. However, it was not incorporated into the latest version of the handbook. Worse, however, is the impression given by inspection reports. All these are from reports since that guidance was issued.
It is not yet an outstanding school because: In a few lessons all students do the same work, which is not hard enough to enable some groups of students to achieve their best…
…What does the school need to do to improve further? … always giving groups of students work which is appropriate for their ability and stretches them so that they learn better.
Hugh Christie Technology College, February 2014
It is not yet an outstanding school because … Sometimes all students in the class are doing the same tasks, whatever their level of ability so that some make slower progress.
…However, sometimes opportunities for faster progress are limited because all the students are doing the same work…
Haywood Academy, February 2014
It is not yet an outstanding school because … In subjects other than English, mathematics and science, especially geography, history and religious education, pupils often all work at the same task, rather than on work that matches their ability…
… A scrutiny of pupils’ work shows that too often all pupils work at the same tasks with too few opportunities to tackle more challenging work.
New Brancepeth Primary School, April 2014
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Often all pupils, no matter what their ability, are given the same task to do. Some struggle while others, particularly the most able, find the work too easy and do not make the progress they are capable of…
…A common problem is that the tasks set for pupils are not always pitched at the right level of difficulty; they are too easy for some pupils and too difficult for others. For example, when the whole class is given the same activity to do, more-able pupils, who have already understood what the activity is meant to teach them, learn little that is new. In contrast, those who are less able struggle. Neither group makes good progress.
Southery Primary School, April 2014
This is a good school… Teachers give different work to pupils of different abilities, so that usually tasks are challenging but manageable…
Teachers assess pupils’ attainment regularly and use this information to plan different work for those at different stages of learning. They generally give the most-able pupils difficult tasks that develop their thinking and enable them to make good progress, and ensure that those who might otherwise struggle get easier work, and so also do well. Occasionally, teachers do not judge the level of work accurately enough, and then some pupils find it hard to cope, or others are not challenged sufficiently to make the progress they should.
Chipping Ongar Primary School, May 2014
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because …There are many instances of students of all abilities being expected complete the same tasks in lessons.
…there are many instances where students of very varying ability are all given the same work to do. This limits the potential for all of them to make good progress.
Joseph Swan Academy, May 2014
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … There are too many instances of students of all abilities being expected to complete the same tasks in lessons…
What does the school need to do to improve further? … Accelerate students’ achievement in the main school and in the sixth form, especially for the most able students by: ensuring the work for all students is closely matched to their abilities…
…Work in students’ books and observation of lessons, indicate that students are not always provided with work that takes account of their ability. Consequently, they sometimes find work is too easy or too hard. In some lessons, the most able students have to wait before they are given more challenging tasks.
Walbottle Campus, June 2014
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Pupils, including disabled pupils, those who have special educational needs and the most able, are not always expected to work at the levels of which they are capable, especially when they are all set the same task to complete.
Guyhirn CofE VC Primary School, June 2014
This is a school that requires special measures. … Over time the quality of teaching has been inadequate. This is because teachers expect all students to do the same work, regardless of their academic ability…
…The quality of teaching is inadequate …The most-able students are often asked to do the same work as their peers. The work is too easy, they finish quickly and then have nothing to do while they wait for the rest of the class to catch up. This means their progress is slower than it should be. For other students, the work is too hard and they do not understand what they have to do or why they are doing it.
Endeavour High School, October 2014
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Teaching does not take enough account of the different levels of students’ abilities, including the most able. This means that at times students are completing the same work, which is therefore too hard for some and too easy for others…
…The quality of teaching requires improvement … Teaching does not take enough account of the different levels of abilities of students, including the most able. This means that it is often the case that students are completing the same work, which is therefore too hard for some and too easy for others. For example, in some lessons students have been set aspirational targets but there is no additional challenge offered to make sure that students can reach those targets.
Bristnall Hall Academy, November 2014
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Although there is some good and outstanding teaching, too many teachers expect students of different abilities to complete the same work. This lack of regard for students’ prior attainment affects adversely the progress that they make…
The quality of teaching requires improvement … The very small size of the school means that, even in settled arrangements, the ability range of the students is wide. Not all teachers rise to the challenges that this presents. In some lessons, the level of work is not matched to students’ prior attainment, which adversely affects the progress that they make. In these lessons, the most and least able students make insufficient progress. For example, they are simply repeating skills which they already know, or are being given work that is far too hard for them. This lack of progress is also evident in some students’ books. Students spoken to during the inspection also report that in some lessons everybody is given identical work…
…Where the quality of teaching is good or better, teachers … provide interesting work for the students which is appropriate for their ability.
Solway Community Technology College, December 2014
This is a good school. … Teachers usually give different work to pupils of different abilities, so that it is challenging but manageable…
A strength of many lessons is that teachers use the data about previous attainment to prepare different work for pupils of different ability. This is particularly successful in ensuring that both the most able and those who struggle with academic work all find the work challenging and interesting, but manageable. Occasionally, this is not done accurately enough, so some pupils find the work too difficult or too easy, and progress is slower.
Little Harrowden Community Primary School, January 2015
(Actually, this is so similar to Chipping Ongar school above, it might be worth somebody’s while to check that there wasn’t cutting and pasting going on).
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Teachers sometimes set the same work for all pupils in a class. The more able find the work very easy, the less able find it too hard. Consequently, neither group makes consistently good progress….
The quality of teaching requires improvement … Where learning is least effective, the work set does not ensure that pupils of different abilities are both appropriately and consistently challenged in their work. Sometimes, as seen in their books, pupils do not spend enough time on task, and work is incomplete. On other occasions, all pupils have the same piece of work to complete. It is too easy for the more-able, and too hard for the less-able. This slows the progress of both groups.
Millfield Primary School, June 2015
It is not yet an outstanding school because … Occasionally, teachers provide all pupils with the same tasks, which a few find too difficult and others too easy…
Pupils’ books show that, occasionally, teachers provide all pupils with the same learning tasks, which a few find too difficult and others too easy. This slows the progress of the least- and most- able pupils.
Leighton Primary School, June 2015
This is a school that requires improvement. It is not good because … Teachers do not always adapt work when it is clear that pupils are ready for harder or different work…
…Teachers do not always adapt work to ensure that it is at the right pitch for the pupils in their class. This is particularly true for disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs and the most able.
Cedar Primary School, July 2015
Teaching is inadequate because, too often, expectations are low. Pupils of different abilities are usually given the same tasks to do, which some find either too hard or too easy..
Chigwell Primary School, July 2015
As ever when I point out what OFSTED reports criticise a particular practice, people can come back to me and say that they may have only criticised it in cases where it was definitely doing harm. And, of course, giving the same work to a secondary class that have been set or streamed, or are all preparing for the same exam, is very different to giving the same work to a primary class who vary even in the most basic skills, and might even contain students from more than one year groups. But the fact remains that OFSTED have repeatedly criticised teachers for giving their classes the same work, and done so to teachers in both primary and secondary schools, and in schools with very different OFSTED grades, often without proving that it was harmful. This still sends out the message that external observers can tell what work your class needs better than you can. It encourages practices that require extra work which cannot be repeated in every lesson you teach, thereby ensuring observations become unrepresentative of actual practice. In schools I’ve worked in, it has also been used as a reason to require students to be grouped by ability tables within in the class and not sat in rows. Pressure to set different work for different students also discourages teachers from having high expectations of the least able. In the worst of the reports above, the inspectors have characterised setting the same work for a whole class as a bad thing without any real reason to think it was causing problems, and in one case it was implied that the work be set according to target grades, as if these actually indicate what work a student should do in a lesson. The harm that this sort of message could cause is significant.
Once again, the messages from the top of OFSTED do not seem to be the message in the OFSTED reports. I will acknowledge that these reports are all from before the summer and major changes to OFSTED have taken place since then. It is possible that things have improved since the changes to OFSTED since then. Anyone seen similar comments since then?
Acknowledgement: I made extensive use of this website in researching this blogpost.