A relentless focus on high-quality teachers and teaching
Welcome back to another exciting year in education. Hopefully we have all had a good Christmas and had time to rest after the usual surfeit of turkey, Christmas pudding and mulled wine because this year in education looks set to follow the same pattern as last year with ‘all change’ being our motto for at least the next 12 months.
This month we see the implementation of the new Ofsted inspection framework, requiring inspectors to focus ‘even more extensively on the quality of teaching… spending most of their time in classrooms’ (The framework for school inspection. January 2012, Ref: 110128).
Teaching and its impact on pupil achievement will, in the light of the drive for improvement first outlined in the 2010 White Paper, The importance of teaching, be under ever-increasing scrutiny.
The revised framework
At the close of the last calendar year, we looked at the place of questioning, dialogue and discussion in promoting high-quality learning experiences. These are important areas for all of us to work on as the new inspection framework has been trimmed down to focus on four key areas:
- the achievement of pupils in the school
- the quality of teaching in the school
- the quality of leadership and management in the school
- the behaviour and safety of the pupils in the school.
Under judgments related to the quality of teaching, inspectors will be looking for, amongst other things, ‘the extent to which teachers’ questioning and use of discussion promote learning’.
To help them make these judgments, they will be spending longer in classrooms and talking with adults and students to determine the ‘extent to which the pace and depth of learning are maximised as a result of teachers’ monitoring of learning during lessons and consequent actions in response to pupils’ feedback’. A rose by any other name, these judgements focus heavily on actions and outcomes promoted by assessment for learning (AFL) practice.
Teaching in the spotlight
The new chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wishard, identified back in October 2011 that schools would need to ‘ensure that there are strong performance management systems in [place], very robust ones, to identify not just the hopelessly ineffective and incompetent teacher, but also those that are coasting and letting children down’. These comments, following hot on the heels of Ofsted’s 2011 annual report which identified that ‘too much teaching is variable… just 3% of secondary schools (inspected) and 4% of primary schools were judged outstanding for the quality of teaching’, should leave us in no doubt that with the new streamlined inspection putting the spotlight firmly on the quality of teaching and the achievement of learners, we will be under scrutiny as never before.
Things to avoid
So let’s look at some of the ‘sins’ we need to avoid and then we can concentrate on moving our practice on in these areas. Ofsted’s annual report identified, amongst other things, the following concerns with regard to teaching practice and provision:
- over-use of worksheets
- over-reliance on a narrow range of texts
- too much talking from the front
- not enough pupil interaction
- poor monitoring of progress.
Assessment for Learning
If we use AFL techniques effectively and consistently in our classrooms, I believe the deficient behaviours identified above could quickly be eradicated and replaced with more dynamic teaching approaches. So what is stopping us? The research and evidence to validate the success of AFL is evident in abundance.
As long ago as 1998, Professor Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam presented evidence pointing out the importance of formative assessment in raising the standards of classroom achievement and engagement, strongly asserting that formative assessment lies ‘at the heart of effective teaching’.
Assessment refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers and by their students in assessing themselves, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged… such assessment becomes “formative assessment” when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet the needs of the individual students.
Raising standards through classroom assessment, Kings College London School of Education, BERA short final draft Nov 2001
AFL classrooms can help create a culture of success, by providing clear understanding of what is wrong and achievable targets for putting it right.
“Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other pupils.”
Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam
The link between formative assessment and self-assessment is inevitable. Work of this kind leads seamlessly to a range of experiences related to personalised learning, where learning becomes an object of sustained, in-depth discussion with increasing clarity around the ways in which pupils can move forward at their own pace, whilst supporting their peers to do likewise. In short, learning becomes both an individual and a collegiate activity, with the teacher acting as facilitator and supporter.
Ultimately this type of approach makes the ‘too much talking from the front’ mode of delivery redundant. But if you are new to such practice, these changes require courage on the behalf of teachers who will, in some cases, find it difficult to relinquish their centre-stage position; it will also require support from senior and middle managers who will need to provide the training and development necessary to successfully alter often deeply ingrained practice.
My suggestion to all teachers who have read this with a gathering sense of despair is that you should be proactive in seeking the support you need. If you have not included developments related to AFL as part of your performance management (PM) objectives, it is not too late to amend those targets, providing you have the support of your PM/appraisal line manager. Do not wait for an inspector to identify the deficiencies in your practice; if you know they are there, it is much better to be seen to be addressing them rather than ignoring them and, at the very least, the children in your classes deserve that commitment from you.
What I came into teaching for
I am guessing this is the point at which we should all be asking ourselves what we came into education to achieve. In short, now might be as good a time as any to make up our minds whether we see ourselves as educators in the mode of Mr M’Choakumchild or Jean Brodie. The choice as ever is yours, but if you choose the former do not be surprised if Ofsted fails to caste a flattering light on you. It is just possible ‘murdering the innocents’ is finally out of favour.
So, Mr. M’Choakumchild began in his best manner. He and some one hundred and forty other schoolmasters, had been lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principles, like so many pianoforte legs… He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world… and all the productions, manners and customs of all the countries… Ah, rather overdone, Mr. M’Choackumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!
Charles Dickens, Hard Times, Chapter 2, Murdering the Innocents
- Ofsted, (January 2012) The framework for school inspection. Ref: 110128). Crown Copyright
- Ofsted, (November 2011) The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2010/11. Crown Copyright
- Black P. and Wiliam D. (2001) Raising standards through classroom assessment. Kings College London School of Education