It’s all very well Ofsted labelling some teaching as boring but it, too, has a responsibility to ensure teachers remain energised, writes Dawn Forshaw
Comments in Ofsted’s annual report that teaching is boring in one-third of schools led to outrage from teaching unions. Does Ofsted have a point, or is it unrealistic to expect that children will never be bored at school?
Last March my own school was judged by Ofsted to have “satisfactory” teaching overall. However, during the two days of inspection not a single lesson was observed for its duration.
Savvy colleagues had timings spot-on to make sure that inspectors caught the “wow” part of the lesson unfortunately, others didn’t and the inspectors saw some lessons that lacked pace and challenge. So within those schools labelled boring it is fair to say that there will be lessons going on that are good, or even outstanding.
There is little doubt that “inadequate” teaching is a particular problem for vulnerable children who can find it difficult to engage with lessons and need teachers who inspire and motivate them.
The recent government scheme to reward teachers working in the most challenging settings may be a step in the right direction. The problem is that it takes time to influence colleagues who have been used to doing things in a certain way for many years.
Poor leadership and a lack of training opportunities in cash-strapped schools can leave staff with the feeling that, although they know that things are not right, there are barriers that prevent them taking action.
The way to reduce boredom isn’t with a clampdown, national strategy or a lot of ministerial hot air. Instead, the answer lies in giving teachers the space to be creative and accepting that not all lessons go to plan.
Inspection can be stressful, so some teachers may play safe with lessons that end up being boring. Sir Tim Brighouse, the first commissioner and chief adviser for London schools, questioned whether Ofsted has a true picture of what goes on in schools: “It is a very brave teacher who takes risks when Ofsted come calling. But the best teachers are always taking risks.”
Teachers need to be given the freedom to try different methods and a flexible approach to teaching.
However, the problem with these sorts of lessons is that sometimes they go spectacularly wrong: the boundaries slip and learning doesn’t really happen. And it is the thought of that perceived failure, of the Ofsted inspector saying the lesson was “unsatisfactory”, that deters teachers from trying new things, particularly with difficult classes. And it ends up as a vicious cycle: the more boisterous the children, the safer the lesson the teacher plans in the misplaced hope of keeping things calm.
So perhaps we just need to be a bit more realistic. We can’t always expect technically sound and traditional lessons if at the same time we want children (and their teachers) to be engaged, passionate and innovative.
In practice, this means encouraging teachers to be more flexible with their teaching methods, but also letting them off the hook if occasionally they get it wrong – and accepting that teaching is not an exact science.
Dawn Forshaw is the head teacher at Wellfield Church Primary School, Burnley, Lancashire