Posts Tagged ‘Wilshaw’

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Do OFSTED pay attention to their chief inspector or their handbook?

March 23, 2013

A couple of people who I respect enormously have, during my recent OFSTED campaign, picked me up on one point: why do I write as if the organisation, and its chief inspector, have very different agendas? Or to put it another way, when Sir Michael’s words contradict his organisation’s actions why believe that it the organisation, rather than his words, which misrepresent his intentions?

My only answer really is that having heard him speak I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt on the issue of good intentions. He seems to be saying the right things as if he believed them. He was at it again this week, according to the Times (via School improvement.net )

 Sir Michael said children needed an element of rote learning, a grasp of basic facts and to master reading, writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar before they could learn at a higher level, and many prep and private schools used a similar approach.

As a head teacher he had long seen a need to replace the national curriculum with one that emphasised such a more traditionalist approach, especially in maths and English, he said.

“I am extremely upset and concerned that there should be this level of criticism for what I think is absolutely essential – more rigour in the national curriculum and a greater focus on basic skills,” Sir Michael said.

However, no matter how good his intentions might be, it is worth asking what difference anything he does makes. Here I want to look at one example of OFSTED at the centre (presumably under Sir Michael’s direction) making an important central change which is then immediately ignored by other parts of the organisation. As I’ve discussed before, the old OFSTED handbook contained the following phrase in its description of “outstanding” teaching:

 Teaching promotes pupils’ high levels of resilience, confidence and independence when they tackle challenging activities.

For good teaching:

 Teaching generally promotes pupils’ resilience, confidence and independence when tackling challenging activities.

This could be interpreted in many ways but in education “independence” has become code for minimising the role of the teacher and the amount of direct instruction. This is something that, perhaps, may only becomes apparent when you hear teachers say apparently contradictory things such as “I do lots of groupwork in order to encourage independence” and I realise some may doubt that this is the usual interpretation (although it can be argued that guidance at the time made clear it was the correct interpretation). What cannot be doubted is that when the post-Wilshaw version of the OFSTED handbook appeared in late 2012 this phrase was removed and the only refernce to “independence” was:

Not all aspects of learning, for example pupils’ engagement, interest, concentration, determination, resilience and independence, will be seen in a single observation.

Now, whatever your precise understanding of the text, this seems to be a significant change from requiring the promotion of independence as a feature of outstanding teaching, to only mentioning it as something that does not need to be seen in every observation and it appeared to underline the message Sir Michael had communicated that there would be no OFSTED-approved teaching style. I have certainly seen the old text used in schools as “proof” that OFSTED require a particular method of teaching, and disappointment on the part of true believers when they discovered that text was no longer a canonical part of the Gospel according to OFSTED. We can assume that this could not have happened by accident or against Sir Michael’s wishes and that anyone claiming that OFSTED are still looking for “independence” was behind the times and anyone specifying that this must include groupwork must be unaware of Sir Michael’s repeated claims that no particular teaching style was required.

For these reasons, a good test of how much this kind of central change makes would be to see whether it has affected the subject guidance documents. These materials are to be used when surveying the quality of teaching of individual subjects in schools, providing more detail and at times providing a more detailed interpretation of the general criteria and forming the basis of any subject reports. These were updated in the early months of this year, and because they are written by subject specialists and so provide a good indicator of how much effect the OFSTED handbook changes have had across OFSTED. If we look to see what these say, after the requirement for independence was removed from the handbook, we find how little things have really changed under Wilshaw.

From the science guidance we find that outstanding achievement requires:

Pupils show exceptional independence; they are able to think for themselves and raise their own questions about science knowledge and understanding and scientific enquiry.

Good achievement means:

Pupils regularly work independently, often taking the initiative in individual work and when working with others.They show confidence and competence in the full range of stage-appropriate practical work, including planning and carrying out science investigations in groups or individually

Achievement which requires improvement means:

 Pupils are generally dependent on their teachers, particularly when the teaching methods used do not encourage independent thought.

Inadequate achievement means:

Pupils rarely work independently or take the initiative in their work.

From the English guidance, we find out that outstanding achievement means:

Pupils have learnt to be effective independent learners, able to think for themselves and to provide leadership, while also being sensitive to the needs of others.

Good achievement means:

Pupils express their ideas clearly and well in discussion and work effectively in different groups. Pupils are able to show independence and initiative; for instance, raising thoughtful questions or helping to drive forward group work.

An outstanding curriculum means that:

Independent learning and wide reading are very well promoted.

A curriculum in need of improvement means there are only:

Some opportunities are provided for pupils to work independently.

In history, inadequate achievement means:

Pupils rarely demonstrate enthusiasm, initiative, creative or the ability to learn independently in history.

In RE, outstanding achievement means:

Pupils show exceptional independence; they can think for themselves and take the initiative in, for  example, asking questions, carrying out their own investigations, evaluating ideas and working constructively with others.

Good achievement means:

Pupils show independence; they can think for themselves and take some initiative in, for example, asking questions, carrying out investigations and working with others. 

And inadequate achievement means:

Pupils rarely show the ability to work independently or take the initiative in RE.

In modern languages, outstanding achievement means:

Pupils show exceptional independence in their studies and can use a range of resources, including ICT, to develop their language skills and investigate aspects that interest them.

Almost all pupils work hard, develop resilience and understand that language learning is often challenging, purposeful and collaborative.

Good achievement means:

Pupils are able to work independently when given the opportunity, taking the initiative in their work and when working with others.

Achievement requiring improvement means:

Pupils can occasionally work independently and take initiative in developing their work but more often are dependent on their teachers for written and oral prompts when trying to create new sentences….

…Some pupils are reluctant to work in pairs or groups using the target language and frequently return to English.

Inadequate achievement means:

Pupils are unable to work independently or take the initiative in their work.

Outstanding teaching means:

Precisely targeted support from other adults encourages all pupils to develop independence and a desire to use the target language for real communication.

Good teaching means:

Planning is informed by a good level of subject expertise. As a result, teachers use an appropriate range of resources and teaching strategies to promote good learning across all aspects of the subject and ensure pupils develop the skills they need to become independent language learners.

An inadequate curriculum means:

Pupils are given insufficient opportunities to develop creativity, linguistic competence, cultural understanding or the skills needed to be independent language learners.

Even in PE, outstanding achievement means:

They know how to improve their own and others’ performance, and work independently for extended periods of time without the need of guidance or support.

Achievement requiring improvement means:

Pupils are too dependent on the teacher and cannot work independently for sustained periods of time without their support or guidance.

Inadequate teaching means:

Too much teacher talk, low expectations and few opportunities to learn independently lead to long periods of inactivity.

In maths, outstanding achievement means:

Pupils … show exceptional independence and take the initiative in solving problems in a wide range of contexts, including the new or unusual. Pupils think for themselves and are prepared to persevere when faced with challenges, showing a confidence that they will succeed.

Good achievement means:

They are able to work independently, and sometimes take the initiative in solving problems in various contexts.

Outstanding teaching (in a section which also contradicts Wilshaw’s previously indicated views about maths teaching) means:

Teaching is rooted in the development of all pupils’ conceptual understanding of important concepts [so much for Wilshaw’s “element of rote”] and progression within the lesson and over time.

…Teachers nurture mathematical independence, allowing time for thinking and encouraging discussion. Problem- solving, discussion and investigation are integral to pupils’ learning of mathematics…

 … [Teachers] use a very wide range of teaching strategies to stimulate all pupils’ active participation in their learning, together with innovative and imaginative resources, including practical activities and, where appropriate, the outdoor environment.

Good teaching means:

Teaching develops pupils’ understanding of important concepts as well as their proficiency in techniques and recall of knowledge, equipping pupils to work independently.

In EBE (Economics, business and enterprise), outstanding achievement means:

Pupils on formally assessed economics and business education courses show exceptional independence; they are able to think for themselves and take the initiative in, for example, asking questions, carrying out their own investigations and in working constructively with others. They show significant levels of originality, imagination or creativity in their understanding and skills within the subject.

Good achievement means: 

Pupils on formally assessed economics and business education courses are able to work independently when given the opportunity, taking the initiative in their work and when working with others. They demonstrate some originality, imagination or creativity in their subject work.

Achievement in need of improvement means: 

Pupils on formally assessed economics and business education courses are generally dependent on their teachers but can occasionally work independently and take the initiative in developing their work.

 Inadequate achievement means:

Pupils on formally assessed economics and business education courses rarely show the ability to work independently or take the initiative in their work. They rarely demonstrate creativity or originality in their subject work.

In geography, outstanding achievment means:

Pupils show exceptional independence; they are able to think for themselves and take the initiative in, for example, asking questions, carrying out their own investigations and working constructively with others. They show significant levels of originality, imagination or creativity in their understanding and skills within the subject.

Good achievement means:

Pupils are able to work independently when given the opportunity, taking the initiative in their work and when working with others. They demonstrate some originality, imagination or creativity in their subject work.

Achievement requiring improvement means:

Pupils are generally dependent on their teachers but can occasionally work independently and take the initiative in developing their work. Occasionally, pupils show creative or original responses in their subject work.

Inadequate achievement means:

Pupils rarely learn independently and rely heavily on the teacher to provide answers.

In music, inadequate achievement means:

Pupils rarely show the ability or willingness to work independently or take the initiative in their work.

Now I realise there is a lot of ambiguity about the word “independence” and it is easy to find interpretations of the word that everyone would be quite happy with. But what is the point of removing a word from the OFSTED handbook other than to say it will not be expected to be seen in every observation, only to set out guidance a few months later suggesting it is a core attribute of what achievement looks like in almost every single subject? Who is really setting the agenda here?

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