I sense a quiet revolution in the way teachers are thinking about pedagogy and I’m really excited about it. For those of you who started your teaching career at a time when there was a ‘national strategy’ for almost every part of your classroom practice – or earlier still, when there was a ringbinder of ‘national curriculum’ content and assessment for every subject – today’s curriculum and the absence of guidance from central government is a very different world.
At the centre of this change is an incredibly important and enabling message: teachers and school leaders are in the best position to determine how children are best taught – they should understand what works and get on with developing it.
With this in mind, it’s great to see more and more teachers and leaders engaging with research – using it to develop their practice based on an understanding of what is proven to be effective and adapting it to account for the context in which they work.
I still hear of teachers, though, who are reluctant to engage with research because they are preoccupied with what Ofsted is looking for. These teachers are worried that Ofsted has a preferred style, or that schools are at the whim of individual inspectors who expect to see things done in a particular way.
Let me dispel two pervasive myths about what Ofsted is looking for:
Ofsted myth 1: Ofsted has a preferred style of teaching
Unfortunately, we still hear teachers and leaders say that they do what they do because they thought we wanted to see a particular approach. Let me be clear: we do not have a preferred style of teaching. Teachers should teach in a way that best meets the needs of their students.
What matters to Ofsted is that all children receive the quality education they deserve, regardless of the teaching methods applied. Inspectors want to see teachers who are confident in their approach and, most importantly, can show that what they are doing is supporting pupils to do well. Inspectors often ask: ‘How do you know it is working?’ The best schools are very clear about how they know their chosen methods are making a difference.
When you are considering your teaching approach, it is important that you find the best research and then test it in your own context. More and more pedagogical research is available in easy-to-digest formats, but there are still some poorly formed ideas out there, and commercially produced ideas which don’t deliver what they claim to. Remember that it is your responsibility to test out your chosen approaches. When an inspector asks, ‘How do you know it works?’ you’ll need to point to your own evidence which shows that what you are doing is working in your classroom, with your pupils.
Ofsted myth 2: we want to see a set amount or type of marking and feedback
When it comes to doing unnecessary things for Ofsted, assessment and feedback practice is a big drain on teachers’ time. There is no doubt that some well-meaning but ineffective marking and feedback practice has developed because teachers think Ofsted inspectors want to see a particular amount or type of marking in pupils’ books.
Don’t get me wrong, assessment and feedback – both written and oral – is important for pupils’ progress, but the focus should be on understanding what pupils know and can do, so you can help them to learn more. We do not expect to see a specific type or volume of marking and feedback – that is for the school to decide and illustrate through its assessment policy, and it may well be different for each subject and age group.
When inspectors look at pupils’ books or folders, we really do not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work. Ofsted understands that the amount of work in books and folders will depend on the subject, age and ability of the pupils. We are looking for quality and progress, not quantity.
While inspectors will consider how feedback promotes learning, they will not expect to see a written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers. Equally, if you’ve been on a course, you don’t need spend hours writing ‘supply’ on all the work which was left unmarked. Use the time to think about your learning that day, or to plan your next day, or to catch up with your own family. I’m sure that no pupil made better progress because a teacher wrote ‘oral feedback’ or ‘supply’ on their book. If it doesn’t make a difference to pupils, don’t waste time doing it.
We know that teachers’ workload is a genuine concern and that Ofsted myths have increased that burden. I am determined to spread the truth about what Ofsted actually does and doesn’t expect to see during an inspection so your time can be freed up to do what is important. I’ll blog again shortly; let me know what will help. And don’t forget to check out all of the information on Ofsted’s own education blog for more useful updates about our myth busting work.