Review - Books - Praise where due

18th February 2011 at 00:00

The Perfect Ofsted Lesson

By Jackie Beere

Crown House Publishing

#163;8.99

The catch is in the title, of course. Not the "perfect lesson" but the "perfect Ofsted lesson". An important distinction, that. So before we go on, let's be clear: there is no such thing as a perfect lesson. Lessons come in all shapes and sizes: some are lousy and some are brilliant; and most, thank heavens, are at least competent. But to suggest that following a formula prescribed by Ofsted will produce a perfect lesson is nonsense - although it might produce a lesson perceived by an inspector to be perfect.

A main requirement of this "perfection" is that pupils are seen to make progress, and this progress can be recorded - another myth long overdue for debunking. During a single lesson, some pupils make good progress and others make little. But over a period of time, that picture can and will change dramatically.

The "snapshot" that comprises an Ofsted visit to your classroom can be misleading because lessons do not exist in isolation, but in sequence. It is in sequence that their effectiveness, and pupils' meaningful progress, need to be judged.

An out-of-sequence snapshot, then, is a dangerous thing, but the aim of this book is to "make that snapshot look not only outstanding but for it to truly reflect your everyday outstanding teaching". Whatever my reservations about the underlying principles, this is a laudable aim and I would like to think the chapters that follow are well meant in offering a walk-through of Ofsted's criteria for grading lessons "outstanding".

There is little in the seven-step content that will surprise: familiarise yourself with the Ofsted criteria; set up the learning environment; open with a starter; set objectives and learning outcomes; the main lesson; reflection; plenaryreview.

The language is littered with acronyms, cliches and education jargon but, if you want to be graded outstanding, this is a useful book with sensible comments and a sound grasp of the Ofsted process, written by a well-respected educationalist. Just don't confuse it with teaching a perfect lesson. For that you might be better off reading Phil Beadle's How to Teach.

The verdict: 710

The Bitter Root

By James Andrews

Haven Books

#163;7.99

James Andrews' deeply eccentric The Bitter Root could hardly offer a greater contrast. Introducing himself with the claim that "he has never sought to be anything other than a bog-standard classroom teacher", his book suggests that he is probably anything but that.

Anyone who can quote convincingly from everything from the classics to a wide range of modern literature is clearly dedicated to the literary side of the profession to an extent not often found in the most rarefied of classrooms, let alone bog-standard ones. It is hard to imagine that this does not at some level spill into his teaching.

This book is a largely anecdotal account of the author's 13 years in the classroom and his observations on how best to educate "the wayward scholar". Not, you will note, the seriously deviant scholar but the "wayward" one. It opens with a lament that the "great and triumphant acts of indiscipline that used to be the backbone of our educational system" are no more. Where, he wonders, are the greased piglets that, released into assemblies, could cause havoc? Such acts of rebellion, he claims, are "a medium through which children develop independence and character".

Such extremes aside, there is a great deal of common sense here based on solid classroom experience, even if it is highly critical of "The School of Political Correctness and The College of Doing Good". Discipline, for example, is the bedrock of effective teaching, and re-naming it "behaviour management" conveys "the notion that there is no such thing as bad behaviour, just behaviour that needs to be managed ... Actions that were palpably wrong are now merely inappropriate," according to Andrews. At one level this is a "Buffy Frobisher" response to change, but the debate it stimulates is entirely valid. The truth is that discipline in schools is probably the biggest issue confronting the profession and we have not resolved it. Changing the nomenclature is not a solution; it's a cop-out.

Andrews has chosen deliberately to write his memoir in a mannered and archaic style, which I found both amusing and eloquent. Agree or disagree, there is a charm and literary erudition here that is rare in books on education. His final words provide a neat riposte to the Ofsted model: "Let us not, though, put too much faith in method, or delight in the use of noxious strategies: for teaching ever was art over science."

The verdict 910.

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