Being an “outstanding” school is imperative not just to all teachers and headteachers, but also to the parents of students and those of prospective students. However, when Ofsted comes knocking on the door, schools are having to make their lessons mechanical and dull.
Ofsted is often used as a vehicle for ministers who want to use their statistics to celebrate the schools they love, but the Inspectorate can also restrict and hinder learning and limit the progress students make.
Teachers in deprived schools, which my study - Supporting Outstanding Pupil Progress In Schools In An Area Of Social and Economic Deprivation - is focused on often need to be creative and use more “off the wall activities” to encourage discovery and student-centred learning. Creativity is essential for young minds to learn, and not all children learn from the “perfect Ofsted” lessons. Students often need to be engaged in learning.
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Students in disadvantaged areas often need learning to be more personalised and need more motivation, which they do not always gain from their family background. This country cannot just rely on students from an early age wanting to use education as an escape route. In fact many children need to have a particular focus on building their confidence through interaction with staff and other students. However, this doesn’t tie in with Ofsted’s views.
In fact, my research found that trying to conform to the “outstanding” criteria was an issue for many teachers and resulted in students uninterested in lessons compared to those that were more “off the wall” and involved enjoyment.
Ofsted’s “ideal” lessons can result in students losing their love of learning and could even result in disengagement that could hinder their chances of achieving their potential.
One teacher in the report said they did not like the learning objectives imposed on them by the Inspectorate because they didn’t believe the children should be told what they are going to learn and that they should find out as they go along. Another teacher said they felt there needs to be a strong focus on the “really needy students” and not just those who are targeting exam success.
Teachers in the report felt students need to develop thinking skills as well as specific things like literacy and maths. One teacher said that 90 per cent of students in that school were from homes without real books and teachers have to model everything for them such as good writing and analysis. Some teachers felt they had to model educational values and the importance and relevance of learning and reading and encourage students to take an interest in society and politics.
Teachers felt they have to be surrogate parents and had to acknowledge and respond to students personal/emotional issues. One teacher explained that they need to make the children happy and engaged in learning because of their background and many can be unhappy. Despite this Ofsted continue to judge schools on an even playing field.
Schools in deprived areas often have to send learning resources home, especially those based on literacy and games because of poverty. The report also discovered the need to build confidence and speaking/interaction skills. Some children need to be made more socially aware and encouraged to build discussion skills through more trips to build confidence.
Teachers in such schools therefore have to work a lot harder at all these issues and adapt much more to families and students. Relationships with parents is important, to build trust and break down barriers. The demands on teachers’ time and emotional stamina are enormous but as a consequence of all these demands, teachers believed working in these challenging contexts improves the quality of their teaching, which ironically is not appreciated by Ofsted since these schools are more likely to gain low Ofsted grades and therefore be criticised by ministers.
The system enforced by the Ofsted regime and inappropriate distribution of resources appears to kill opportunities for achievement in deprived areas, even though research about what works is very clear. Educators have known the effect labelling for years on self-esteem and achievement and this probably applies to teachers as well as students in our aggressive monitoring and grading system, and it is vital that our system meets needs more appropriately.