“In reality (naively, it now seems) we were carrying out our study in the belief that Sir Michael had a philosophically similar view and that he was struggling to change Ofsted’s direction because so many of its inspectors were committed to the now-discredited child-led methods of the 1960s and hostile to more-modern teacher-led approaches.”
Dr David G. Green
, Director of Civitas
This appears, then, to be the impetus behind Civitas’s inquiry into Ofsted: its disappointment that Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has not denounced the allegedly “now-discredited child-led methods of the 1960s”.
Presumably Dr Green means Plowden which, as Professor Robin Alexander explains here
, has been misrepresented by both over-enthusiastic advocates (those who “jumped on the bandwagon but cannot play the instruments”) and those who claim Plowden promoted unstructured permissiveness.
But Sir Michael has not condemned such methods. Instead, he’s issued a letter
saying inspectors must not comment on teaching styles. Unfortunately, it appears the message hasn’t got through to some inspectors: some recent Ofsted reports were removed
from Ofsted’s website and edited to eradicate such comments.
Sir Michael’s prohibition on judgements of teaching styles is apparently insufficient to satisfy Civitas. Perhaps they hoped Sir Michael would go further and denounce the teaching methods that it and Education Secretary Michael Gove dislike.
But he didn’t. In fact, he went further and said rather combatively, ‘I am not having government or anyone else tell inspectors what they should assess as good teaching.’
According to Dr Green, this is a sign of the “insolence of the bureaucratic monopolist.” Others might argue Sir Michael was merely asserting his independence.
So, what else is bothering Civitas? Dr Green asserts “at least a third of children in successive year groups have been under-performing in recent years.”
But is Dr Green correct?
Primary performance tables (2013) show 75% of all Key Stage 2 pupils reached Level 4
in Reading, Writing and Maths (RWM). That’s not “at least a third” of all children. However, it’s true that only 63% of disadvantaged children achieved Level 4 in RWM while 80% of advantaged children did so.
But is failure to reach Level 4 necessarily a sign of underperformance? Expected progress
is a better measure. According to the 2013 Key Stage 2 tables for pupils in state-funded schools:
: 90% of advantaged pupils and 85% of disadvantaged pupils made expected progress.
: 93% of advantaged pupils and 89% of disadvantaged ones made expected progress.
: 90% of advantaged pupils and 84% of disadvantaged ones make expected progress.
Even the worst of these figures, the 16% of disadvantaged children who didn’t make expected progress in maths, is lower than the “at least a third” cited by Dr Green.
Dr Green says the best teaching is “teacher-led” and I’d agree with that if “teacher-led” meant teachers being able to use their professional judgement to decide which teaching methods to use depending on their pupils, the situation and their preferred teaching style. I’d agree if “teacher-led” meant a structured teaching programme devised by teachers themselves (as opposed to centrally-dictated curricula imposed either by national government or academy chains).
But Dr Green doesn’t mean that. He says “teacher-led” means not being “under bureaucratic control of local government”.
Oh dear. Teachers and schools haven’t been under local government control for decades*.
Despite the inaccurate data, the repetition of the local authority control myth and the misrepresentation of 1960’s pedagogy, it would be unfair to say the only motive for the attack on Ofsted by Civitas was annoyance that Sir Michael didn’t condemn the teaching methods abhorred by Civitas and Gove. Civitas had other concerns which I’ll deal with in a separate post.
*See faq above Do local authorities control their schools