Learning Cannot Be Inspected

Magnifying-glass-green-brassRecently, David Didau highlighted an inspection report which made prescriptive judgements about marking, even though Ofsted’s own policies say that they don’t. The report was withdrawn, but in subsequent discussion on Twitter, it was apparent that this kind of thing is rather common. It might be worth starting a sustained campaign to pull Ofsted reports to pieces online. They’re in the public domain, and it looks like it would be a fairly easy job.

But even if we demolished dozens of Ofsted reports for being illogical, inconsistent with their own guidance, overly prescriptive or just plain dumb, would it have much impact on the ground? There would probably be an increased vigilance about what inspectors set down on paper, but that still wouldn’t stop them from demolishing careers and schools based on flaky judgements. They would just have to give different reasons for doing so.

Everyone knows that if you go into a lesson looking for faults, you’ll find plenty of them. Teaching and learning are a messy business, and they just aren’t worth making snap judgements on. What really matters is long term learning: true mastery of the central knowledge and skills for each academic discipline. This is simply not something you can judge based on a brief inspection combined with a pile of dodgy data.

Thus, the only way to stop Ofsted from making misguided judgements of teaching and learning is by stopping them from making judgements of this area completely. They should only inspect the management of a school. Is it well organised? Are teachers supported (yes, supported, not bullied and manipulated)? Are its finances audited?

If we want to find out what pupils are learning, we just need to give them regular objective tests of their subject knowledge. Testing should be a normal part of teaching, not a big scary bogeyman who pops up every five years or so. There should be annual national tests using multiple choice questions, not vague subjective written assessment. The national curriculum should be firmly focused on building up core knowledge incrementally throughout every child’s years at school.

Then teachers should just be left alone to teach that core knowledge. I reckon most of them would embrace traditional methods pretty quickly if they were actually required to teach to mastery a clearly defined body of knowledge. In essence, traditional methods are simple and effective. Teacher explains. Pupils practice. Teacher notices widespread misconception and explains further. Pupils practice more. It’s what teachers did for centuries before they were blitzed by the recent proliferation of potty pedagogies.

For further fine tuning, we need resources designed by experts, such as Engelmann’s ‘Expressive Writing’. There would be a boom in the production of such resources if most of the country were focused on teaching this way, because they actually wanted kids to know and remember stuff.

Just think: you’d never see another inspector in your room again. In exchange, all you’ve got to do is teach knowledge thoroughly. And that’s what you came into teaching to do, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

(Image from Wikimedia).

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