No wonder Ofsted has given up assessing teaching in individual lessons. We have teaching standards. We have studies of what great questioning looks like. We can agree when we are seeing excellent explanation of complexity. We recognise good lesson pace when we see it. But none of it necessarily equates to great teaching.
Unless it is accompanied by great progress from the learners.
I visit outstanding schools most weeks and I often ask heads how you improve teaching without changing the staff. I rarely get a scientific answer. It seems to me that the answer lies in improving the teacher’s ability to recognise where they want their students to get to. Let’s call that the finishing line. The best teachers can place the finishing line at different places for lots of different students, depending on how far they can make each student run. And they know exactly where each of their students has got to on the track. So, improving teaching is about getting the teacher to see much more clearly where each student is and where the teacher wants to take them. They need to be sufficiently ambitious. Great teachers are highly ambitious.
Now comes the mysterious bit. How come such a variety of teaching styles can result in great progress being made by all students?
Heads want teachers to get students from point A to point B. They aren’t really bothered how it happens. Is it by explaining, motivating, pushing, demanding, enabling, spoon-feeding?
As long as it happens, I’m not really bothered either.
Most of education research today is unfit for purpose in terms of its impact on classroom practice. So said Estelle Morris at our Key conference in Westminster on 10 June. If she were to be made secretary of state for education tomorrow, she would channel 20% of all education research directly into schools. Institutions like York University, the IOE or Durham University could help make sure the trials conducted by schools are properly randomised. David Weston, from the Teacher Development Trust, said that schools should regularly conduct action research to find out whether one type of teaching is more effective than another. For example, in one trial he was associated with, oral feedback was seen to have considerably more impact than written feedback. As a result, the school modified its approach and students made greater progress. There are hundreds of other pedagogical areas that could be investigated by schools and the results shared with others.
In fact, maybe that’s a job for The Key. We’ll have a think about this. We want schools to have ready access to practical research that will improve outcomes for children and young people.