In his 3rd Feb speech, Michael Gove stated
"[Michael Wilshaw] has demanded a move away from faddish attachments to outdated styles of teaching and a new emphasis that any style of teaching is welcome as long as students make progress”
Janet Downs has already pointed out the contradiction in this sentence, that you can't "allow any style of teaching" while outlawing certain styles. Gove lavished praise on his "outstanding Chief Inspector", but in fact revealed a key difference in approach between the two of them. The Secretary of State has made clear (for instance, here
) that he wants a return to traditional teaching. Supporters like Allison Pearson have explained
that this means teachers talking from the front rather than, for instance, the class engaged in collaborative learning.
But this is not what Sir Michael is saying in his now famous letter
to inspectors. He is not saying good lessons are about teachers talking and he is not criticising students working together. What he is criticising is a rigid formula of what teaching should look like. And teachers will welcome this. One of the most common criticisms of Ofsted in the past has been a rigid approach to what makes a Good or Outstanding lesson. You will not find teachers on the barricades demanding the return of a tick-box straightjacket approach from Ofsted.
On the day the letter became public I was at a conference of Hackney governors and talking with a governor from Mossbourne. I expressed surprise that Wilshaw was advocating a "what works" approach, rather than a belief in one style of teaching. She explained that I had misunderstood him. While there is a very clear common approach to discipline at Mossbourne, and the learning motto must be recited at the beginning of every lesson, Sir Michael has apparently always supported a range of teaching styles.
Video: Wilshaw - "Its about what works"
She pointed me to this video
of an RSA debate on "What makes a good teacher". The Chief Inspector (from 1 min to 9 mins on the video) contrasts two teachers at Mossbourne. The Head of Maths took a traditional teaching-from-the-front approach. The English teacher had students working in groups, some dressed up for the part, to explore Merchant of Venice - while using the Al Pacino film for inspiration. These are two very different methods but, he points out, each had a style of teaching they were comfortable with. "A good lesson is, for me, about what works" he emphasises.
A good lesson is one, he explains, which is enjoyed, where students are engaged, focused, learn a great deal and make real progress. He made a plea for "pragmatism not ideology" in the approach to teaching.
On the day of the row between Gove and Wilshaw I tweeted "We may not agree with Wilshaw
's approach but he knows and understands education. Gove
does not." Andrew Old expressed surprise and suggested @localschools_uk was on #teamofsted. I have to say, on this crucial issue of whether you focus on whether teaching works or insist on an approach based on ideology, I am on the side of Sir Michael.
Focus on the learning
Some years ago the school I chair called in consultants for a mock Ofsted. The key part of the feedback, as they monitored classes with our team, was "you are focusing too much on the teaching". The natural reaction was to say "yes, of course we are focused on the teaching. We are a school." But the response was clear and obvious: "You should be focusing on the learning". It was the same message as that of Michael Wilshaw, in the video above, and it was hugely liberating for teachers. Its not about whether you've followed the 3-stage or 7-stage or 14-stage approach. Its about whether effective learning is taking place.
So I was taken aback when Gove's white paper was called "The Importance of Teaching". What about the importance of learning? In her article Allison Pearson dismissed collaborative learning as "15-year-olds chatting among themselves". This is ideology. The evidence contradicts her. The Education Endowment Foundation found in its toolkit
that collaborative learning was probably the most cost-effective way to get increased impact and more progress.
My day job is in commercial education. Two weeks ago I attended the "Learning Awards"
, previously known as the Training Awards. The organiser, previously a Training Institute, is now called the Learning & Performance Institute. Instead of Training Company of the Year, we now have Learning Provider of the Year and the Trainer of the Year is now the "Learning Professional of the Year". Imagine the scorn that Toby Young or Allison Pearson would pour on a school that renamed its teachers as learning professionals. But that is how my world, the business world that Gove so admires, sees it. It is no longer about training, but about enabling people to learn - by whatever means.
And this is the difference between the two Michaels. Michael Gove and his supporters have an ideological approach, and seek one style of traditional teaching. Michael Wilshaw is not in that camp. He may have many faults but on this one I believe he is correct. He is focused on the learning and has made clear he is open to whatever works to create that learning.