The Chief Inspector for Schools is concerned that inspectors are marking down traditional methods of teaching. According to “The Sunday Times” (16.2.2014), he has written to his inspectors pleading: “Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it doesn’t conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.”
At the heart of this problem is an almost universal belief amongst educationalists in something called ‘best practice’. With regard to teaching, this means that what happens in the classroom should mostly be child-centred and ‘personalised’.
Sometimes, of course, this may be an entirely appropriate way to teach. Equally, it can prove to be a highly inefficient use of teacher time and a missed opportunity for successful learning.
There are different ways of teaching successfully – lots of ‘good practices’ but rarely a single ‘best practice’. As a head teacher, I made sure that my teachers knew where I expected their pupils to be in terms of attainment by the end of the school year. Regular testing and twice-yearly school exams left little to chance.
However, it was, largely, the responsibility of individual teachers as to how pupils reached the required level. Some of them favoured more child-centred approaches, others a more didactic approach, most used a mix of the two.
What really mattered was not so much the way pupils were taught as the extent to which they made progress.
In my experience, teachers perform far more effectively if they are given the freedom to teach using their own preferred teaching style. Yes, they need to be told that the must move pupils forward from A to B. But, no, good teachers should not need to be told ‘how’ to do their job. They should be trusted, but made fully accountable.
The Chief Inspector is right. We need to do away with the stranglehold of a single ‘best practice’ and have a range of ‘good practices’, including traditional ones.