It has recently been reported that Ofsted are to ‘crack down’ on ‘boring’ teaching as part of an effort to refocus inspectors’ attention on teaching and learning.
It is a relief to hear acknowledgment that poor behaviour in the classroom does not necessarily stem from feral children or a broken society, but might rather be the result of young people rejecting a system that appears irrelevant to their needs and interests.
Oli de Botton and Phil Beadle both make a similar point, that Ofsted are right to point out the importance of engagement as an issue, but that Ofsted doing what Ofsted usually do isn’t going to solve it. Creating more boxes to tick, and having more inspector scrutiny is not the answer. It might be more appropriate to treat teachers as, and support them to be, the creative professionals that we need if the needs of every learner are to be met.
So, bravo for realising that what is important in schools in engaged, happy students who enjoy learning. The evidence from Opening Minds indicates that, rather than simply cracking the whip on teachers, we can use the curriculum to create more space for teachers to inspire and motivate young people. Based on Opening Minds, teachers and students benefit from models of learning which show young people why the content of lessons is relevant, how it is inter-related between subjects, and, most crucially, how they can use knowledge to act and to achieve things.
Critics of such a view of ‘knowledge for a purpose’ in schooling will warn that too much freedom can lead to an avoidance of difficult and particularly abstract knowledge. It is a lack of challenge because of shallow teaching focussed on coaching for a test that is to blame. We should heed part of this warning. While I don’t believe it should mark a retreat to traditional forms of teaching and learning, young people should be consistently challenged by the content they are grappling with.
Some of the teachers unions have responded by claiming that not every lesson can be exciting and that such claims make teachers ‘fair game’ for everyone, including students. Perhaps it would be better to welcome an emphasis on teaching and learning rather than testing, and present the alternative to just more inspection – to demonstrate the steps we need to make to ensure engaging lessons are a widespread reality.