The emotional elements of 'outstanding' teaching should be considered by Ofsted, says research

Important emotional elements of 'outstanding' teaching and learning, such as relationships, excitement, and a 'buzz' should be considered in OfSTED inspections, according to research by education experts at Nottingham Trent University.

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Important emotional elements of 'outstanding' teaching and learning, such as relationships, excitement, and a 'buzz' should be considered in Ofsted inspections, according to research by education experts at Nottingham Trent University.

Dr Andrew Clapham from the university's School of Education and research assistant Dr Rob Vickers reviewed Ofsted documentation and questioned Secondary and Further Education governors, practitioners, and students about how 'outstanding' and 'outstandingness' can be defined.

The findings revealed that while Ofsted focuses mainly on the 'hard' aspects such as attainment, discipline issues and attendance, those questioned talked about outstandingness in softer terms like respect, fairness, and trust.

Dr Clapham said: "The most stark finding from our study was the difference between Ofsted's definition of outstanding and the informants' definition. While there were similarities around the importance of discipline, inspection fails to recognise what practitioners and students feel are the crucial emotional aspects, such as humanity, consistency, and relationships – aspects which do not feature at any point in Ofsted's school or Further Education descriptors."

Inspection fails to recognise what practitioners and students feel are the crucial emotional aspects, such as humanity, consistency and relationships

Dr Andrew Clapham

Those questioned also spoke about outstandingness creating a 'buzz' in a classroom, with one interviewee referencing teachers who have the 'x-factor'. "Drilling down to what this mythical notion actually means is problematic," added Dr Clapham. "The informants felt they knew when this 'buzz' was present, but the conditions for achieving it were not always replicable and transferable. This of course makes it difficult to measure in inspection terms."

The distance of a student's learning journey was also deemed to be an important part of outstandingness by the respondents, with many talking about progress in terms of a student's background and ability rather than measuring their final attainment.

Dr Clapham said: "Ofsted requires 'sustained progress which leads to outstanding achievement', but what does this mean? The students we spoke to thought it meant high grades, but one teacher highlighted the example of helping a student with low self-esteem and confidence to achieve a pass – but as far as inspectors are concerned, it's still a low grade."

He concluded: "Outstanding and outstandingness are clearly difficult to define. There is a lot of common-sense ground, but the crucial emotional nuances which adult and child informants alike reported are completely absent from Ofsted documentation."

However, Dr Clapham suggested that some sympathy might be felt for policy-makers trying to identify conditions which lead to outstandingness. "How do you measure fun, smiling and enjoyment?"

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    Queen's Anniversary PrizeThe Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education was awarded to Nottingham Trent University in November 2015.  It is the highest national honour for a UK university and recognises the institution's world-class research. Pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula, and combat food fraud led to the prestigious award.

The emotional elements of 'outstanding' teaching should be considered by Ofsted, says research

Published on 4 February 2016
  • Category: Research; Nottingham Institute of Education

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