Who do you think you are?

22nd February 2013 at 00:00

Is it just me or are those people at Ofsted cheeky buggers? A few weeks ago they announced a crackdown on boring lessons in independents. Yet another inspection framework was unleashed, this time to tighten the net on teachers deemed uninspiring.

To be clear, I'm no great supporter of independent schools. I am certain that the time will come when every community will have a fine local school and, like our counterparts in Norway and Finland, every child and parent will be able to hold their head up high and proclaim, "Look at me: I'm at my local state comprehensive. I'm here for free and I'm proud of it."

We're not quite there yet, though. In the meantime, if parents choose to spend their money on private education, that is their decision.

I would be astonished, however, if parents chose a school because they thought the teaching was sparkling and never dull. I suspect that many think real learning ought to be boring sometimes - a preparation for life.

So who exactly do inspectors think they are to pontificate on what good teaching is and whether it's interesting enough or not?

Ofsted director Susan Gregory told one newspaper: "One of our main findings last year was that the quality of teaching in non-association independent schools tended to be competent but seldom inspiring."

To which I say: how dare she? Most inspectors fled the classroom years ago and now have the audacity to tell us from the sidelines whether our lessons tick the "interesting" box.

In many schools this is leading to a warped approach in which pedagogy is reduced to some crowd-pleasing gimmicks. Colleagues report of inspectors pronouncing that a lesson "can never be outstanding if the teacher talks for more than 10 minutes". Hang on. I'm a teacher, damn it. There are many topics that - with a degree in English - I know more about than my pupils, and it might be that the best way of teaching them is by telling them stuff.

Picking up the macho talk of "dawn raids" on local authorities and a prevailing tone that belittles teachers and heads, some inspectors conclude that a trace of graffiti on an exercise book means a lesson can't be better than satisfactory because the attitude to learning is wrong. Or that a passive class of pupils can't demonstrate outstanding teaching because "behaviour for learning" must show visible signs of independent working.

It's a rent-a-kit inspection mentality built on a superficial notion of pupil progress by people who last taught when a box of chalk was de rigueur.

And so we play the game. Sensing an inspector shuffling in, we pause, point at the brightly displayed learning objective and ask an open-ended question that requires pupils to demonstrate what they have learned in the past three minutes. A box is ticked. But let us not fool ourselves that this is real teaching or real learning. It's the Meccano version. By numbers.

It's no good someone from Ofsted writing a huffy letter to next week's TES to point out that more heads now form part of inspection teams. No offence to my esteemed colleagues but heads are rarely experts in what top-notch teaching looks like.

No, the real experts are our colleagues. Ofsted's role is to help us make our schools better rather than laying down tripwires for teachers whom inspectors deem boring.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Suffolk.

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