Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grading the teaching profession - can lesson observation be useful?

Lesson Observation help or hindrance


I posted this lesson observation template on Twitter and within 24 hours it had been seen by over 1,200 users and counting (Tweet activity via Twitter analysis tool) - it has certainly left an impression judging by the interactions I have also received, and the many comments and suggestions of how it could be improved. One follower went as far as saying it was "frankly rubbish".

The template has been created using Ofsted's 2014 grade descriptors from its School Inspection Handbook. Ofsted makes a point that its grade descriptors should not be used as a checklist, instead favouring a best fit model (p.38) however it would appear that schools do use them as a checklist during lesson observations with teachers facing the dilemma of not knowing how many ticks have gone into which column until they receive their feedback. I am also aware that Ofsted have made a point that their grade descriptors should not be used as a way of making an assessment on individual lessons.

Ofsted's School Inspection Handbook is actually quite a useful document - pages 15 and 16 are of particular importance as they clearly layout Ofsted's current thinking on lesson observation. The following statements should be printed out on A1 and put on every headteacher's door and staffroom in every school.
  • The key objectives of lesson observations are to inform the evaluation of the overall quality of teaching over time.
  • When inspectors carry out observations in lessons, they should not grade the quality of teaching for that individual session or indeed the overall quality of the lesson.
  • Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. They will not look for a preferred methodology.
  • Inspectors will not expect teachers to prepare lesson plans for the inspection.
So how do we make lesson observation useful?
  • Lesson observations are here to stay but how they are conducted can be changed. The following suggestions were offered on Twitter.
  • No feedback should be given.
  • Don't ever use that template, it's demeaning.
  • Only two boxes - strengths and improvements
  • Feedback that has questions to provoke discussion
  • Peer observations
  • Management only conduct one observation, the rest are carried out with peers
  • Video lessons. Reflect and discuss in teams afterwards.
  • Visit other schools and observe teaching there.
  • Definitely do not use this template. Ever.
  • Improve the knowledge of the observers



Unfortunately, when a school decides to ignore Ofsted's advice and concentrate on 'what they think Ofsted wants' they end up creating a system of lesson observation that is more to do with accountability than improving teaching and learning.

I would advise that you now read the brilliant "Life without Lesson Observation Grades" by Deputy Headteacher Shaun Allison.