Ofsted: Teachers should be free to teach as they want as long as children learn

Teachers will no longer be judged on their teaching styles or have to match lessons to the needs of individual pupils to achieve top grades in Ofsted inspections, the watchdog has announced.

Inspectors should also not automatically criticise teachers for talking too much or mark them down if they do not lay on a range of different activities in the lessons, Ofsted said.

The changes to how teachers will be judged in inspections were announced in new guidance published yesterday. They follow comments made to TES earlier this year by chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw that there is no right way to teach.

“Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style,” the new guidance states.

“For example, they should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong or 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. Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable.

“On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. Do not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding.”

The guidance also warns inspectors: “Do not to focus on lesson structure at the expense of its content or the wide range of other evidence about how well children are learning in the school.”

Previously Ofsted only said that inspectors should not “advocate a particular method of teaching or show preference towards a specific lesson structure”, but did not go into any more detail about what was permissible.

Sir Michael has previously said that he was concerned that teachers were “putting on a show” for inspectors by teaching in a way they did not usually do.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of teaching union the ATL, said it was welcome that Ofsted had made it explicit that teachers should not follow “identikit” lessons.

“It seems that Ofsted is acknowledging that there are plenty of ways to teach effectively and that one size does not fit all,” she said.

“The question is why has it taken until the end of 2013 for that to happen after teachers have been facing the tyranny of inspections and an assault on their professionalism for so many years?

“The other big issue is the variable quality of inspectors. With a rigid structure, teachers knew what to expect. If we are now relying on inspectors to fall back on their own expertise of teaching, that will cause its own problems.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, also questioned whether inspectors had sufficient recent experience to make sound decisions.

“Part of the challenge is that too many inspectors have been away from the classroom for a long time,” he said. “The change to the guidance is good, but it will place more focus on the quality of inspection teams to form independent judgements.”

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