Ofsted’s preferred science teaching stylePosted: January 7, 2017
The English schools inspectorate, Ofsted, have made it clear in recent times that there is no preferred teaching style that they are looking for when observing lessons. This follows pressure from bloggers such as @oldandrewuk who exposed the preferences of inspectors for group work and a minimal level of teacher talk.
I was therefore a little surprised to see via Twitter the following slide being presented at a conference for English science educators by Ofsted’s science lead, Matthew Newberry.
The slide is based upon Ofsted’s 2013 ‘Maintaining Curiosity‘ report on science teaching. Ofsted have since abandoned writing subject-specific reports, no doubt due to the tendency of these reports to promote particular teaching styles.
I explored the context a little via Twitter and it was clear which message Newberry was sending. For instance, Newberry seemed to be claiming that the Maintaining Curiosity report was still current:
By now, we should all be well aware of the effect of a senior person from Ofsted making such a statement. Schools will reasonably conclude that Ofsted want to see students designing, planning and conducting their own experiments in science lessons.
This is troubling, especially given the recent evidence from PISA that, within any given country, these approaches are associated with a lower ability to apply scientific concepts and reasoning:
This evidence is clearly more robust than that produced by collating pre-announced Ofsted observations.
When I raised the issue with Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director, rather than distancing himself from Newberry’s comments, he effectively endorsed them:
Harford then referred me to the English National Curriculum that includes a statement about ‘working scientifically’ which states, “pupils should be taught to… select, plan and carry out the most appropriate types of scientific enquiries…”
So this is apparently what Ofsted want to see, even in schools to which the National Curriculum does not apply (I pushed Harford on this). Therefore, there is an Ofsted science teaching style.
‘Working scientifically’, a vague phrase that seems to imply inquiry learning, can be effective but only when students already possess a great deal of content knowledge. Ironically, this is why trained scientists, experts in their scientific fields, who then become science teachers often fail to think scientifically about the process of learning and therefore find themselves susceptible to believing in semi-mystical constructivist learning theories where a student conducts an experiment and thus a miracle happens.
Note: I am aware that Newberry did state that Ofsted have no preferred teaching style in his talk but this is clearly not consistent with promoting ‘Maintaining Curiosity’.
Update: This post by @Rosalindphys picks up on an even more killer slide than the one above; a slide that argues that schools need to schedule more time for enquiry-based learning. She also makes a further important point about teaching inquiry versus teaching through inquiry.