If lessons are dull, it's Ofsted we need to thank

16th January 2009 at 00:00

Ofsted has bewailed boring lessons ("A third of schools bore their classes", TES, January 9). We in schools didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Sir Tim Brighouse said: "It's a very brave teacher who takes risks when Ofsted comes calling." Some might say foolhardy.

Who drilled inflexible, predictable approaches into the profession? Ofsted. The three-part lesson, with objectives made explicit at the start and revisited at the end, has taken root in classrooms throughout the land. The insistence that all pupils know at the start of the lesson what they are supposed to learn in it negates any sense of discovery or consequent "wow" factor that characterises truly memorable learning. Yet safe outcomes have become holy writ.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, expressed concern in her first annual report that exam preparation hindered pupils' development. Did she pause to wonder why schools might be focusing so obsessively on exams? Could it be the pressure of league tables, naming and shaming, and of Ofsted coming to call?

One of the best heads I've known took over an underperforming junior school in a deprived area. She told me: "The teachers were teaching like mad, but the children just weren't learning." She transformed the school so much that I sent teachers from my (independent) school to learn from her staff. So hard were they working that they had perhaps taken their eye off their next inspection, which found that writing was not good enough. The result? Automatic special measures. The governing body lost confidence. My friend is now a professional artist, and teaching has lost an outstanding leader.

The Government wants school leaders who keep noses to grindstones and punish non-conformity. It's a style of leadership I would generally call "bullying": the Government calls it "transformational".

Dr Bernard Trafford, Head of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, and chairman, Headmasters' Headmistresses' Conference.

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