On Tuesday this week I was delighted to see that Mike Cladingbowl of Ofsted engage in face-to-face discussion with educational bloggers. I was even more delighted to see that the bloggers chosen to attend included David Didau, Tom Bennett and Ross McGill who so often post insightful and useful posts onto their individual blogs. The above three teachers have blogged about the meeting and you can read those posts here:
David Didau: What I learned from my visit to Ofsted
Tom Bennett: Meet the Fockers: Ofsted talks to the bloggers
The reaction on Twitter from most teachers was extremely positive. Most were delighted to see Ofsted enter into genuine dialogue with the profession to address some of the deep concerns that many practitioners have in relation to the inspectorate. Since the meeting, however, one point has overshadowed all others: Lesson observation grades are over.
This was, for me at least, the most positive piece of news I’d heard in relation to education in a long time. Observations can be an incredibly productive tool in a teacher’s individual professional development. However, the system in which lesson observations are currently utilised seriously impairs the possible positive outcomes of such a strategy. Observations are currently used as an accountability measure in schools. Headteachers and SLT use lesson observations to collect evidence to be used as a measure of the school’s quality of teaching as many in this position believe this will please, or at least appease, Ofsted. However, this current practice of observing individual lessons in isolation and then subsequently providing a grade for the teaching based on what has been observed is deeply flawed for many reasons, not least the following:
1) One swallow doesn’t make a summer. Nor does one good lesson make a good teacher or a bad lesson make a bad one. Each lesson is usually incredibly different, and to judge somebody on what they do once in a one hour window (or shorter) is invariably unreliable. A judgement on a teacher’s practice should surely be more heavily weighted on pupil’s progression over time and evidence through assessments and work in the books. A one-off snippet of a teacher’s practice is not enough on which to base a solid judgement.
2) As an evaluative measure of accountability, lesson observations are supposed to offer the person an insight into the teacher’s daily practice. What they usually see is the complete opposite. If a teacher knows that they are going to be judged on what they manage to produce in a lesson, and know in advance that they are going to be observed, they sensibly choose to plan and prepare an ‘all singing and all dancing’ lesson which ticks the boxes and enables them to hear the words ‘good’ or ‘outstanding features’ and then they move on. It is rarely an accurate picture of their daily practice. At best it is a staggeringly exaggerated example of what usually happens in their classroom. This is going to be even more so if lesson observations begin to tie in with PRP, as has already been the case for me. Lesson observations therefore become a hurdle to overcome rather than a method of professional reflection and development.
3) Due to many viewing the process as a box ticking exercise and a summative means of judging a practitioner’s capabilities, the progressive potential of lesson observations is lost somewhere amongst the bureaucracy. If a lesson grade is removed, then a teacher’s perspective shifts from accountability to development and thus the picture changes dramatically. Observations change entirely so that they are supportive and are used to identify strengths and areas for development in a way which is supportive and unobtrusive without any elements of judgement. In this way Tom Sherrington is correct when he says that this is a potential‘game-changer’.
Unfortunately there has been a great deal of uncertainty since this was announced on Tuesday. Developments have come with such haste that by the time this blog is published it may very well be proved redundant. Although Ofsted have confirmed that individual lessons shouldn’t be graded, their official documentation remains unclear and Tom Bennett has been inundated with recent examples of this occuring. There are also musings of elements of a lesson still being able to be graded and the lesson observation form used by Ofsted does have space for a judgement to be made. It is clear that Ofsted still have work to do in clarifying their situation. What we do know however is that the Ofsted machine wields such influence over school’s decision makers that whatever they do, schools are likely to follow suit. School leaders could really bring education forward and modernise the system if only they are bold enough to remove judgements from the observation process.
I really hope they do change the game, both Ofsted and school leaders, but for the time being and while confusion reigns it seems to me to be less of a ‘game-changer’ and more ‘new balls, please’.