Risk strategies

Bill Laar

How can you bring a smile to the stony face of an Ofsted inspector? Bill Laar, former chief inspector for Westminster, explains why this outdoor geography lesson got top marks

Just what is it that entitles a lesson to a high Ofsted rating? Detailed, scrupulous planning, in line with Ofsted criteria, may guarantee "safe" but not necessarily sparkling teaching. The geography lesson shown here was successful because detailed planning had translated into a notable learning experience.

The teacher "took a risk" by taking the pupils outdoors ("risks" can also be taken in the classroom!) with the possibility of losing control over them. In the process, however, she demonstrated awareness of the surest ways in which young children learn - through first-hand experience, providing opportunities for active learning via observation or investigation of a familiar environment, and through building on their previous experience. She guarded against the risk of pupils treating the lesson as just another playtime by making them keenly aware of the purpose of the expedition and the expected outcomes.

The lesson comprised a judicious mix of class and large and small group activity and an effective balance of teacheradult input, pupil contribution and open-ended learning opportunities. There was strong teaching support, allowing for intensive interaction between an informed adult and manageable groups of pupils. The pupils were set challenging learning tasks (such as being required to match photographs to physical features) which exemplifieshigh, but realistic, expectations on the teacher's part.

Resource provision, in terms of materials for investigation and for completion of tasks, was of a very high standard. Parent-helpers had been briefed and were aware not only of their responsibilities, but also of the purpose of the lesson and the intended outcomes. Investigation tasks were very carefully focused, requiring children to observe, reflect and discuss, knowing that their ideas and responses were being recorded.

Because of the nature of the central learning task, all the children were able to contribute to the plenary discussion, but the group activities were differentiated. The teacher had the confidence to extend the activity into a sequence of lessons as she realised that her expectations, the children's involvement and the complexity and potential of the learning tasks called for more time. Not least, there was evidence of an infant teacher's perennial awareness of her pupils' needs in her readiness to stop everything so that they could have a drink!

Subject: Geography

Class: Mixed reception and Year 1

GROUP: Whole class splitting into three differentiated groups - HedgehogsBadgersOwls - led by a teacher, a parent helper and a trainee nursery nurse. Lesson lasts 70 mins


* Children have explored school locality

* Made suggestions for their playground designs

* Walked around school looking for signs of new life


To begin to: express views on local environment; develop knowledge and understanding about places and themes in geography national curriculum


Discussion 5-10 mins - What we are going outside to discover

Focus questions: nice smellnasty smell; quietnoisy; safedangerous; likedislike (NB talk about behaviour outside.)

Walk around school (15-20 minutes) Route: field, front of school, road, side playground, back of Year 1 building, new playground.

Adult of group writes down children's ideas. Each child has a photograph of route to recognise on walk around. Back in class - whole-class sharing of ideas


Hedgehogs - photographs of fieldshedold mobile classroomalley wall.

Working in pairs, find words to describe the areas (dullno flowers, etc)?

Badgers - photographs of fieldshedalley wallmobile classroom. How could these areas be improved? Design their ideas

Owls - photographs of old and new playgrounds. Which is better? Cut and stick - design a playground.

Come together and discuss what we have done


The children responded well to giving opinions and therefore the walk session was extended and because of the heat the children required a drink. Each follow-up activity was received enthusiastically

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Bill Laar

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