Lesson Observations

I have been in schools where the head teacher never set foot in my classroom. He wasn’t  therefore, how or what I and my pupils were doing. Whether the pupils were achieving and progressing or not;, I felt rather unimportant in his scheme of things. Like anyone else, I want to be appreciated for my efforts and so I found this situation clearly unsatisfactory.  I am rather pleased nowadays when my present head ‘drops in ‘regularly to my lessons and sees what the pupils are doing and talks to them.

However, that is not where it ends any more. Schools require data and whilst exams results and NC levels are excellent for providing that (we also describe pupils efforts on grades now as a number so it can crunched too), SLT find it more difficult to gather hard facts on the quality of teaching. So what happens is that during our ‘teaching and learning audit’ which now happens twice a year, all our lessons ore OFSTED graded. Hey presto! The head can turn to the lead inspector and say that 27.37% of lessons that have been observed in the last 2 years have been outstanding and 34.27% were good etc . Now everyone is happy; the measuring has been done, the report can be written and the CV embellished with beautiful numbers.

However, except no one is considering the effect this all has on the teacher. During the audit fortnights, everyone is greatly focused on that one lesson in which they will receive a visit. Extra differentiated resources and learns objectives are written, multi -coloured post- its are purchased and lesson plans and power points are all printed out in triplicate for the guests who are coming. In the staff room, all conversations begin something like “have you been done yet?”. Or, if you are uncertain whether your colleague has had an observation yet and how it may have gone, you ask someone else first before talking to them. Eggshells are broken despite all our tiptoeing around.

As the lesson approaches nerves get further frayed, partners at home have to be sympathetic and classes you  teach on the day have to expect poorly planned ‘copy out of the book and shut up’ lessons as you build up the energy for your OBSERVATION.

Then after SLT and their clipboard have left your room, all you have left is the feedback. The part which makes it all worthwhile, the stage where you should  learn what worked well and what could be changed. It will start with that well known opening formulaic question from the observer to you “so how do YOU think the lesson went?”, by which they mean “go on, have a guess at what I wrote down.”

But of course you aren’t listening to the comments and feedback. You have just morphed into one of your students after their end of topic test. Just like them you don’t care about targets and comments, you just want to hear WHAT GRADE DID YOU GIVE ME? But like a great story teller SLT keep you in suspense as they run through things like rapid and sustained progress, AfL and bell work. Finally they tell you and the whole thing peaks – outstanding, good, need to improve or poor.

So what is that worth to the teacher? Well of course it is of very little value at all. All the useful stuff was in the feedback, the conversation you now cannot remember a word of, where the member of SLT hopefully made pertinent comments and suggestions as to things you could change in your lesson to improve it. But you weren’t listening were you? You just wanted to know your grade.

Consequently, the whole process produces more stress, discomfort and domestic arguments than it does improved teaching and learning. The teacher misses the chance to develop their skills and the pupils are overlooked completely.

Yet to improve this would be so simple.

All that has to happen is that the observation comes without a grade and instead just leads to a discussion between two professionals determined to produce better teaching and learning in their school.

SLT are failing their staff if all they do is turn themselves into a mini OFSTED team. As a layer of management, they should be filtering out all that unnecessary detritus that comes down from government and HMI, so that teachers have less of it to worry about, so that teachers can get on with teaching. They may be failing in their job by creating a teaching body that is wrought with tension in the build-up to an observation, that feels put upon, mistrusted, permanently monitored and checked up on and that senses whatever they do is never good enough. This is more of a moral than an educational short coming and pupils will pick up on these values and this atmosphere. They too will begin to fell these emotions as well.


Since I began writing and thinking about this issue, I have checked up on what the main 2 Unions position is on inspections. They both say almost exactly the same thing: that observations should not come with an OFSTED grade as this is something that is meant to describe a whole school or at the smallest scale a department. It is not designed to be a comment for 30 minutes of a lesson. Indeed even OFSTED say that “head teachers are not required and will not be expected, to use the OFSTED grades for the purposes of classroom observation.”

NASUWT policy on lesson observations can be found here

The NUT policy states “The NUT is opposed to the use of lesson grading in classroom observations. The use of the Ofsted four point scale for classroom observation neither provides constructive feedback nor supports teachers. There is nothing in the performance management procedures or in the Ofsted self-evaluation documentation which says that such lesson grading should be used. In addition, the NUT has received assurances from Ofsted that head teachers are not required, and will not be expected, to use the Ofsted grades for the purposes of classroom observation. Where lesson grading is proposed or introduced in schools, members should contact their NUT division or regional office immediately.”


When is a vote not a vote?

There is an article in my local paper this week about my local MP John Glen having written to the Education Secretary to “bring in legislation to ensure that teachers can’t take strike action without a minimum level of support.” He had been asked to highlight the matter by the Head Teacher of a local state secondary school who was concerned that “national strike action was recently approved by “just over one in five members of the NUT.”

So I have done a quick piece of research. My local MP is a Conservative one. His party received 36% of the vote in the 2010 General Election. That is 36% of the 65% who turned out to vote. This equates to 23% of those eligible to vote.

The NUT ballot returned 82.5% voting to vote out of a turn out of 27%. This equates to 22% of those eligible to vote.

If the NUT ballot is not representative enough for some MP’s and conservative supporters, then they may have to consider conceding power, dissolving parliament and holding a new General Election as well.

And if a Head Teacher cannot see the way that teachers’ pay, conditions and pensions have worsened over the last 2 years then he is very much out of touch with his staffroom.