How would you like to be observed? by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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As Ofsted continue to face yet more challenges over the validity of lesson observations, I discuss how best we can develop as teachers and ask the reader, ‘how would you like to be observed?’


An article I wrote was published in The Guardian on 27th May 2014. Disappointingly, I wrote this some time ago when the content was a stream of consciousness from various sources of debate online. However, it is still very relevant today and for the forthcoming academic year.

The catalyst for writing this commentary, follows my blog on the future role of lesson observations in England, which stemmed from an event organised by The Teacher Development Trust at Teach First headquarters.

Photo Credit: rgmcfadden via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: rgmcfadden via Compfight cc


What has sparked The Guardian to publish my article (in my opinion), was this article by the TES: ‘Ofsted should no longer judge quality of teaching, says former Gove aide’. There are many ‘valid’ arguments raised, but I continue to present my view, that you can (with clear criteria and experience) observe learning with or without grading a teacher (or the teaching).

I may need to define what I mean by ‘observe learning’ in a future blogpost.

I also argue, that none of the proposals I have read, shared by those in other echelons of education, for example Policy Exchange, the TES or by Ofsted, are proposed by current practising teachers. Particularly on observable learning. I could be wrong, so do point me to any evidence.

And does this matter? No. But it’s an important point to raise.

Carpe diem:

As teachers, we must seize this opportunity to use social media and the collective force of blogs to suggest the best way forward to Ofsted and think-tanks, and not sit back waiting to be told. This may also be the case for recent national curriculum changes, progress 8 measures and a new assessment framework where the vast majority of teachers have not engaged fully in DfE consultation.

We do not have the luxury or the capacity to be at the forefront of academic research. We should, but as teachers, we lead incredibly busy day-jobs and the vast majority of us teach 90% full-time timetables. Why would we want to indulge in further dialogue beyond our job if not granted the time or reason?

But, we should not sit back and wait to be told. We should not work in isolation.

Social media provides teachers and schools a platform to work together. To work smarter and together than ever before. And we should not just work and propose a model for our own schools – although this is crucial – but when developing new methods for improving teaching and learning, we should suggest a model that may work for a group of schools or for schools within a geographical region.

In this particular blog, Ofsted may then approach lesson observations in the same way when assessing a group of schools in different circumstances and adapt this from a revised national framework currently up for discussion. We know Ofsted are in a position of reformation. Whether or not this leads to disbandment, or a more refined and supportive model for the watchdog to improve standards, who knows? I think it will be the latter, but we can still (and should) have a say!

So, with this in mind, and not becoming further side-tracked from the published article, how would you like to be observed? Here, I offer a solution, the media account and a poll for you to cast your views.

A solution?

I have suggested here how we can step away from lesson judgements and recently, how we are planning to get it right at my current school in the following blogposts:

  1. Getting it right: The open versus closed process of lesson observation.
  2. Getting it right: What is a good teacher? How do you know? How do you evidence this?

I accept that this is not a strategy for everyone, but know that those reading my blog – and do feedback – suggest that this approach resembles their own methodology and pedagogy. We need to think carefully and propose how we would like to be observed as a profession. If we (all schools) do move away from judgements, and I know some schools who are not, we should ask ourselves how would we like to be observed and challenged to develop regardless? If you were a headteacher, what would you do in your school if you knew who was a good/needing to improve teacher? How would you help them improve without a judgement? Is there a danger we will still do as Ofsted do?

Do we want judgements and gradings? Would teachers be happy with just feedback focused on strengths and areas for improvement?

Photograph: Alamy
Photograph: Alamy

The article:

If you’ve been swamped under your lesson plans, exams and marking for too long, you might have missed the current insurgency taking place around lesson observations.

Back in March, the think-tank Policy exchange recommended Ofsted abandon its “unreliable and invalid” methods of observing classroom lessons during school inspections. More recently, Sam Freedman, a former policy adviser who is now head of research at Teach First, also argued that lesson observations should be scrapped. Even the updated Ofsted guidance from February 2014 repeated that inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a teaching style.

The catch-22 with lesson observations is that they’re formulated for several purposes – appraisal policy, peer-to-peer development and for monitoring sub-standards of teaching – using the Ofsted criteria. Where we have all gone wrong, is that we have adapted this whole-school framework for individual one-off lesson judgements, which has created a culture of judging teachers and has fixated the profession on defining ourselves by a grade.

Read the full article here

The comments thread is open for your thoughts and ideas.

The poll:



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