This letter from Sir Michael Wilshaw to inspectors, which I saw on Helen Myers' site, needs to be widely known and understood.
'Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Moreover, they must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance. For example, they should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time.
It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual. Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. Do not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding.'
Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney is the most successful comprehensive school in the country. The proportion of pupils gaining over five GCSEs including English and maths is over 80%, from a genuinely comprehensive intake - I know this, not only from visits to the school, but from working with a lot of its pupils in Hackney primary schools.
The basis of the school's success is in this video for teachers' tv. It is under fifteen minutes long, and should be viewed by every teacher in the country. Sir Michael Willshaw sums it up in five points:
1. A structured environment, in contrast to the environment of many Hackney children outside school. A mantra used frequently begins "I aspire to maintain an enquiring mind..." The school previously on the site, Hackney Downs, allowed the poor local environment to dominate the school. It was, no doubt, a reflection of local culture, but was an educational disaster. To see both sides of the question, read Hackney Downs, the School that Dared to Fight, by Maureen O'Connor, Elizabeth Hales, Jeff Davies and Sally Tomlinson,- and the relevant inspectors' reports. Hackney Downs closed in 1995, and the first GCSE results from Mossbourne appeared in 2010 - and indication of the timescale of educational change, even under optimal conditions.
2. Insistence on good behaviour. Poor behaviour is not tolerated and uniform is strict, with a stripe down the outside of the blazer that is reminiscent of the public school. Detentions are immediate and quite severe. Every member of staff is expected to contribute to this at all times. There is a staffroom in each area of the school, so that the children are not out of view of staff during breaks. Detentions begin with losing breaks, lunchtimes, six o'clock detentions, and Saturday mornings. Permanent exclusions are rare.
3. Devolved management to 7 heads of learning areas. Heads of these areas are responsible for outcomes, resources, quality of learning. Large institutions, says Sir Michael, need to be broken down into "small, manageable units". Year 7 is a separate learning area, with additional English and maths for lower achieving children.
4. Quality Teaching and Learning. Teachers work long hours and have passion. Assessment is very systematic, and there are extension classes. School starts at 8.30 for KS3, with two extension classes per week. KS4 starts an hour later, and extension classes finish at 5.10. Teachers have a "no hours" contract. There are additional classes on Saturday morning.
5. Consistent assessment and marking, using levels and sub levels to track progress and set targets. This was also the key to success in the highest-achieving English department I saw in my time as an inspector, in Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone, in 1994.