DfE Questions Answers (August - 20th September 2012)

8th August 2012 at 12:05
Each week the DfE will answer your questions here. To get your questions answered just send them to ask.dfe@education.gsi.gov.uk

Differentiation amp; mixed ability

Q: Sir Michael Wilshaw is critical of mixed ability classes where pupils are not sufficiently challenged or supported. Ofsted wants teachers to teach to a good standard consistently and to avoid unrepresentative activities when observed. Is differentiation by outcome acceptable? Is differentiation by resource a realistic strategy for teachers with full time tables and often teaching over 300 pupils per week? Should pupils' preferred learning style ( eg visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) be considered as part of differentiation?

DfE answers: Ofsted will mark down lessons where there is no differentiation between high and low attainers. Where teaching is good or outstanding, lessons are well planned with a variety of activities that are differentiated to meet individual students' needs, and students are clear about their own current level and what they need to do to improve.

The Department for Education doesn't have any information on styles of learning as we believe teaching methods are up to schools and teachers themselves. A teacher may wish to take these into account, but Ofsted are looking for the lesson to be well planned and clear with pupils who are engaged and learning, and making good progress.

Learning support assistants

Q: How many learning support assistants are there in schools? What are the costs nationally for LSA? What evidence is there, other than anecdotal, that learning support assistants actually raise pupil attainment?

DfE answers: Learning Support staff are, in our statistics, included with teaching assistants, and the total number in November 11 (last figures) for all maintained schoolsAcademies in England was 219,000.

In the 2010-11 financial year, pound;5.1 billion was spent on education support staff, out of the pound;35.8 billion total spending. Here's the chart of the staffing numbers: http:media.education.gov.ukassetsfilesxlsssfr06-2012v3.xls

Evidence about impact of support staff was published in 2009 - Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Brown, P., Koutsoubou, M., Martin, P., Russell, A. amp; Webster, R. with Rubie-Davies, C. (2009) Deployment and impact of support staff in schools: the impact of support staff in schools. Results from strand 2, wave 2. DCSF Research Report DCSFRR148. Institute of Education, University of London: http:education.gov.ukpublicationseOrderingDownloadDCSF-RR148.pdf

Q: The DfE statutory guidance `Exclusion from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England' from 1 September 2012 says in paragraph 52:

"The governing body must consider the reinstatement of an excluded pupil within 15 school days of receiving notice of the exclusion if . it is a fixed period exclusion which would bring the pupil's total number of school days of exclusion to more than 15 in a term."

Can the department clarify what would happen if a pupil has more than 15 days exclusion in a term, the governing body considers the matter and upholds the headteacher's decision, and subsequently the pupil has a further fixed term exclusion imposed in the same term. Does the governing body have to meet again to reconsider the subsequent exclusion?

To give an example:

(1)The headteacher imposes a 16 day fixed term exclusion in September

(2)The governing body exclusions panel considers the matter as required by the regulations and upholds the headteacher's exclusion decision

(3)Subsequently, in November, the pupil commits a further disciplinary offence and the headteacher excludes him for 3 days.

Does the governing body exclusions panel have to meet again to consider the 3 day exclusion?

DfE answers: Yes.If a pupil has already been excluded for more than 15 school days in a term, the governing body will need to meet each time an additional exclusion is imposed on that pupil in the same term.

Q: I recently read comments from Sir Michael Wilshaw where he described that, in some cases, teachers enter the profession, find themselves in a school with poor leadership, these teachers become disillusioned and leave the profession.

Would the dept agree that if a teacher finds himself in a school with poor leadership that promotes ineffective policies the teacher in question would be well advised to use this site as a source of advice and guidance?

If so, would this still be the case if, in fact, the advice and guidance offered on this site contradicted the policies and practices espoused by the school's leadership?

Essentially, what advice would the dept give to teachers in those schools led by SLT who are less than good or who advocate policies that contradict DfE guidance?

My understanding is that the dept do NOT desire to be prescriptive. However, how can we support teachers who are frustrated and demoralised due to the Inefficacy of their school leadership?

DfE answers: We want all good teachers to flourish, have their commitment recognised, and be allowed the scope to express their talent. All the evidence indicates that effective school leadership is key to getting the best out of good teachers. That is why we would encourage all schools to engage with the National College for School Leadership's wide range of leadership programmes and guidance and indeed take into consideration appropriate guidance issued by the department. The College's programmes are aimed particularly at supporting and developing all staff with a leadership role in schools. More information can be found at www.education.gov.uknationalcollege

Where teachers do have concerns they could look to bring them to the attention of their line manager in the first instance. Beyond this the governing body has a key role in ensuring that schools are well led. Schools are also accountable to Ofsted for their performance.

Q: On a Behaviour Management programme featured in the DfE website the two experts leading the discussion voiced concerns about the efficacy if restorative justice in schools. Does the DfE share these concerns and what advice would they give to schools re: restorative justice?

DfE answers: We trust teachers as the professionals to devise behaviour management strategies that work for them and their pupils. It's up to schools themselves to consider whether restorative justice approaches can form part of those strategies. Some of the risks were pointed out in the web chat - the problems than can occur if the approach is used ineffectively.

Independent work

Q: Am I right in thinking that "independent work" can take many forms and that one of these may include pupils working for prolonged periods in silence and on an individual basis?

If an inspector were to observe prolonged silent individual work would he judge the quality of the teaching purely according to its impact upon learning?

There is nothing inherently wrong with pupils working individually and in silence on a challenging task where they are encouraged to expand their current comfort zone and develop personal resilience, in the Department's view, I take it?

DfE answers: No, we see nothing wrong with this but we trust teachers to use their own judgement.

Ofsted's useful handbook for inspectors is here:


Q: Can you please confirm that " differentiation through outcome" is acceptable to inspectors?

Can you confirm that a key aspect of assessment for learning is that teachers use summative assessment as a springboard for modifying teaching strategies, that, in fact, assessment for learning should be seen as a planning tool for teachers to allow them to modify their own practice?

Can you confirm that a practical form of "differentiation through support" would be as follows:

Teachers should:

1. From the planning stage focus upon the known common errors in specific topics 2. From the planning stage focus upon developing strategies that pre empt common errors 3. use their experience and expertise to actively teach pupils how to avoid common errors 4. Plan lessons that pre empt known common errors allowing the class to proceed to more demanding tasks more quickly 5. From the planning stage teachers should focus upon the habits of highly effective learners in the subject area 6. In all lessons encourage pupils to focus upon effective learning habits which can be learnt as opposed to the concept of innate talent which can be seen as limiting 7. In all lessons focus upon the potential barriers to learning given the context 8. From the planning stage use their expertise to erode these barriers to learning 9. Ensure that all pupils are given time and guidance to read and write in class in a focused and considered way 10. That all pupils should be given the opportunity to attempt extended tasks 11. That all pupils should be given the opportunity to attempt tasks beyond their current comfort zone in a supportive but challenging environment.

Can you confirm that the inspectorate are NOT looking solely for "differentiation by task" whereby a teacher would be obliged to create several versions of an activity to cater for different ability levels in the same room?

Would you agree that such an approach may in fact inhibit teacher and pupil ambition?

Would you agree that a more effective approach may be setting challenging tasks for all, whilst pre-empting known common faults, ensuring a focused and supportive learning atmosphere and offering pupils additional support as necessary?

Would you agree that "artificial" forms of differentiation undertaken purely to impress the inspector or a member of SLT observing a lesson, but not representative of practical daily teaching, are counter productive?

Would you agree that, instead, teachers should think carefully from the planning stage about the known common errors, pre -empt these, focus upon challenge in terms of content, focus upon behaviour so that no pupil has the opportunity to "hide" and thus underperform?

DfE answers: Inspectors are asked to look for evidence that will enable them to evaluate what teaching is typically like and the impact that teaching has had on pupils' learning over time. This will include a scrutiny of pupils' work, with particular attention given to (among other things) the level of challenge provided. So yes, it's important - but not if it's imposed artificially for the day of the inspection, but what it's `typically like'.


Q: Would I be right in thinking that teachers do NOT need to use ICT when being observed by an inspector, in order to be deemed outstanding?

Am I right in thinking that a teacher who has an IWB in his class but does NOT use it when being observed would not be automatically "marked down" by an inspector?

Am I right in thinking that ICT is to be seen as a tool that teachers should use only if they believe, in their professional opinion, that the use of this ICT will have a positive impact upon learning that, without ICT, would not have been possible?

Would the above statement hold true specifically of IWB use?

DfE answers: Inspectors do not expect teaching staff to teach in any specific way and don't mark them up or down if they are using a particular teaching tool such as an IWB. They are looking for teaching methods that are well judged and match the needs of the pupils. Using ICT is appropriate if it adds value to the lesson and has a positive impact on children's understanding.

Pupil voice

Q: In the last Ofsted report for Mossbourne Academy, when Sir Michael Wilshaw was Head, the Inspectorate suggested that Pupil Voice be developed further.

Now Sir Michael is Chief Inspector is the significance of pupil voice less important, in the eyes Ofsted, than once it was?

DfE answers: Here is Sir Michael Wilshaw's vision for Ofsted:

Q: Would I be right in thinking that "starters" are NOT compulsory?

Would I also be right in saying that the purpose of the starter is:

1. To secure the best use of lesson time 2. To pre-empt off-task behaviour andor "fussiness"
3. To settle pupils quickly
4. To focus pupils on learning from the very start of the lesson 5. To pre-empt any problems relating to late arrivals in the lesson 6. To establish the teacher's authority 7. To establish an atmosphere of purposeful learning 8. To give pupils a sense of immediate gain

Therefore would the dept think it helpful for teachers to assess any "starter" they use against a set of criteria like the above?

Would the dept. agree that this might be a way in which teachers could ensure that their "starters" are beneficial and represent a very good use of time?

Would the dept agree that this might help teachers avoid a mechanistic approach to "starters" that may actually be counter productive and represent a poor return on time invested?

I have observed many lessons where pupils arrive on time and are ready to dive into the main body of the lesson but the teacher has chosen to do a starter that offers little learning challenge and largely is employed as a response to a school policy making a starter compulsory.

Would the department advise teachers to focus on maximising the return on time invested in lessons and, with this in mind, forego the starter if, in fact, it is NOT offering a very good learning return on time invested?

Does the dept agree that a starter, employed mechanistically with little thought as to the learning return it offers, but rather, simply to meet a policy obligation, would be a poor use of lesson time?

DfE answers: Here is what we are saying about lesson planning:

Starters aren't compulsory but some teachers find them helpful for the reasons listed in your question. Starters that accomplish these points are beneficial but we rely on the good judgement of teachers to plan their time according to the needs of the pupils and what is being taught.

Q: What are the signs of "good or outstanding progress" that an inspector would expect to see in a 20 minute observation period? Many teachers are unclear what the term "good progress over time" means. Clarification of this would be much appreciated.

Would I be right in thinking that, when observing a lesson, an inspector will refer to the following to make his judgement re: progress within the lesson:

1. evidence within the pupils' books that the work set, over a period of time, is sufficiently challenging
2. evidence within the lesson in that questions posed by the teacher are sufficiently demanding
3. evidence within the lesson in that the work set is challenging for all
4. evidence within the lesson in that pupils have the opportunity to produce work independently
5. evidence within the lesson in that behaviour is well managed and effective teacher routines ensure pupils remain fully on task
6. evidence within the lesson in that teachers quickly spot off task behaviour and respond to it appropriately
7. evidence in the lesson in the respect that teachers clearly are very aware of the learning return on time invested and choose activities accordingly
8. evidence in the lesson in that teachers avoid an over reliance upon more willing pupils in Qamp;A sessions but instead push less willing pupils also
9. evidence within the lesson in that teachers both challenge and support pupils in an atmosphere that is 100% focussed upon learning

Would I be right in thinking that there is not a list of prescribed activities that the Inspectorate favour but that, rather, they judge teaching upon its impact upon learning?

Would I also be right in thinking that there is no obligation to start lessons with written objectives nor that the format for any written objectives set would have to follow the AllMostSome style?

DfE answers: Ofsted say that pupils attainment is improved where:


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today