A Valid Landscape for Teaching and Learning by @TeacherToolkit

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Valid Reliable Lesson Observations Judgements


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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The current landscape for teaching and learning is divided. Here, I propose a valid step forward into formative observations without lesson gradings. This is a pragmatic and conceptual blogpost.

This week, I prepare my presentations to speak at the Growing Excellence Conference (26.11.14) and the PiXL National Conference (1.12.14 – my presentation from 2013 is here). Today I asked my Twitter followers the following question which has prompted this impromptu blogpost. As I consider my own thoughts about what my school chooses to do, as well as preparing to deliver my ideas at both conferences mentioned above, I ask you what is your school choosing to do?

You can click on the image to cast your vote.

Judging Lessons Gradings

You can see the image above provides us with a snapshot of the current landscape of teaching and learning across England. Despite, Ofsted freeing us from the burden of lesson gradings, and more specifically judging individual lessons and teachers, many schools (or at least individual teachers) are reporting no changes. The latest statistics confirm that what ASCL are reporting; that more than 2/3rds of schools are still using summative assessments on individual lessons and teachers. As a result, I have also suggested that moving away from gradings under the current guise as ‘progress over time’, this has now triggered the Marking Frenzy.

According to , only 26% of schools are not grading individual lessons. I’m not sure if this statistic considers a summative assessment on teacher performance throughout the year. I will report back once I speak with ASCL’s General Secretary Brian Lightman who confirmed this statistic with the following tweet last month.

Brian Lightman Observation Judgements

As whole-school lead for teaching and learning, I am currently proposing a new model for teaching and learning without summative assessments. This is a move from individual judgements and a step forward to support our new appraisal process and staff development programmes. This includes a move away from overall classroom performance towards a more sophisticated model of gathering reliable and valid sources of evidence (without a grade). You can read more about this below.

Bravery Award:

Schools who are moving away from judging teachers in lessons are stepping into a brave new world. The schools who are moving away from lesson gradings are currently in a minority, and I predict that this will become the predominant factor for assessing the overall quality of teaching and learning in most schools.

Of course, schools are free to determine what works best for their school. After all, we all work in a different context with different priorities. It is important to recognise this before judging any school’s decision to continue with or without lesson gradings.

I want to be crystal clear here. This blog is my proposal to move away from individual lesson-gradings and judging lessons over time. I am concerned with overall performance.

A Quick Recap:

In blogs gone by, I have described in detail the open versus closed process. That no matter what we choose to do as groups of schools; judging lessons, judging teachers formatively or summatively, the closed process – the Teachers’ Standards and Teacher Appraisal and Capability – will never go away. With £80Bn investment per annum pumped into education and schools, there will need to be a certain level of accountability required on public money spent. This is modelled in the diagram shown below.

Good Teacher Appraisal Teacher Standards
Good teaching vs. Appraisal

This means that no matter if we do judge (or not judge) teaching or individual lessons, or even lessons over time, schools will always be held to account on their overall performance. This doesn’t mean that teachers shouldn’t be judged too, but that we should move towards a more reliable and fairer method for doing this. I believe we are moving in the right direction.

As an aside, in my Ofsted experience blog Observing the Observers where I kept a close eye on inspector performance, it is very significant that Ofsted liked what they saw in our classrooms. However, our headline results determined our overall teaching and learning grade. If our results had been higher, then our grade for teaching and learning would have too. Therefore, if outcomes require improvement, then teaching and learning over time cannot be better, which makes one wonder what significance no grading of lesson observations actually has on the outcome of an inspection. Note, not grading lessons had a huge impact on the process and I am very excited that we can move forward without this burden.

Local Level:

At a local level – in our own schools – we are free to make our own decisions on judging the overall quality of teaching and learning. Regarding Progress Over Time, as I have evolved my own thinking and strategy in several blogs over the past year, this is best encapsulated in the following diagram and synopsis:

Progress Over TIme @TeacherToolkit

How you choose to break down the nuts and bolts will be entirely up to you, but as we move towards a landscape of teaching and learning without lesson gradings – in individual lessons and over time – our proposal can be simplified into the following bullet-points term by term.

*MER Draft Proposal:

I am proposing that all the sources below are used to gather a picture (evidence) of consistently Good teaching over time and not one-off assessments, or a grade.

  1. Term 1 = Typicality and Support, routines, expectations. WWW/EBI. Informal feedback.
  2. Term 2 = Book Looks and non-graded Observations.
  3. Term 3 = Data, Book Looks and formalised Student Conversations.
  4. Term 4 = Paired formative-Observations
  5. Term 5 = Typicality, IRIS and Student Conversations
  6. Term 6 = Data, Book Looks and Paired formative-Observations.

*this is a draft year 1 proposal and will evolve in year 2.

All evidence gathered in any observation will be uploaded onto Blue Sky by the observer. Throughout the cycle, the individual teacher will have the freedom to choose their supporting sources of evidence and this will be their responsibility. In any kind of lesson observation, we ask that teachers provide a seating plan as a minimum requirement. In Term 3 we will launch the Blue Sky Observation tab so that all teachers can upload their own peer-observations. IRIS Connect will also be launched. In Term 6, we aim to equip our teachers – or at least all observers with digital devices so that they have they option to record observation notes directly onto Blue Sky and/or IRIS in lessons. We also hope to use the summer term to kick-start Lesson Study. In Year 2, our vision is that IRIS Connect is embedded and Lesson Study kick offs formally and that the MER cycle you can read above, is established and developing. By year 3, I would envisage that this would be embedded and that all teaching staff are working in triads throughout the year, working in a formative model. This includes using open and closed methods of progress over time …

As I develop a deeper MER (Monitoring, Evaluation and Review) cycle, I will share our thoughts and journey throughout 2014/15. Tom Sherrington has blogged today his short reflection on the massive difference it makes when you stop grading lessons. It was refreshing to read the same journey we are undertaking; Lesson Observations Unchained: A New Dawn. It will require us all to be brave and Step Away From Lesson Judgements. My particular concerns are the following, some of which can be addressed through staff training:

  1. Training observers to ‘look at’ rather than ‘look for.’
  2. Training observers to develop high-level observational skills for their own classroom practice.
  3. Training observers to be able to offer sophisticated feedback over time, in a series of planned and focused observations.
  4. The challenge of setting up groups of observational-triads, matched to teacher needs in our own in-house style lesson study.
  5. Encouraging all teachers to use their individual Iris Connect licence.
  6. To remove the fear of lesson gradings and one-off performance.

I hope to see you at the following events.

  • Growing Excellence in Teaching and Learning – 26th November 2014
  • PiXL National Conference – 1st December 2014

Post publication:

I have received the following email from Brian Lightman – General Secretary of ASCL – dated 16.11.14

“The polling question asked during the info conferences was simply whether they were still grading lessons and did not break it down any further. This issue needs a great deal of caution for the following reasons:

The Ofsted clarification makes it very clear that it lists what they do not require and not what heads may or may not do. That should be their professional judgement and a decision that needs to be made at school level. Some school leaders have been challenged by teachers who ignored the important statement at the beginning of the Ofsted document and have objected to doing any of the things in the list, even when there were perfectly sound reasons for doing so. That is not acceptable and we have supported members where this is the case.

The greatest problem with Ofsted grading lessons (apart from the variability of teams) was that they were drawing invalid conclusions after a very short period in the classroom. We have had big concerns about this for a long time and are pleased that Ofsted has recognised the problem.

Schools on the other hand may well have more meaningful approaches which use some sort of summative grade to summarise what is being seen based on an explicit set of criteria. That may or may not use Ofsted grades and may be helpful to teachers.

What we do know of course is that the perceived or sometimes genuine requirements of Ofsted in the past have led schools to adopt practices which are not necessarily in the interests of students or create unnecessary teacher workload. They would be well advised to reconsider these. That is where sharing best practice would be really helpful and we are trying to support this through our professional development programmes.

Incidentally a similar discussion could go on about marking and particularly written feedback where a large number of schools still have very recent Ofsted reports, currently being monitored which make very specific recommendations about improving this. Pleased #SLTchat has discussed this on 16.11.14.”

11 thoughts on “A Valid Landscape for Teaching and Learning by @TeacherToolkit

  1. Thank you for sharing this as it helps with our own SLT discussions on moving our own school process forwards, particularly when opinion is divided on getting rid of gradings.

  2. We are now 3 weeks in to non graded lesson observations. . . .and so far. . . .its brilliant! Removing a number has changed the focus, the landscape, the preparation, the impact, the depersonalisation. . . .not yet removed stress . . . But getting there!

  3. Found your website today and I have been back three times already! A a Union Officer, your vision is something the Unions should be fighting to get our members. I will be presenting many of your ideas to my Reps as a brave step into the new future. Keep up the superb work!

      1. As an area coordinator we introduced a new system of area review back in September 2014. Informal learning walks with all the team involved, this has proved to be fabulous CPD for both new and old staff. Area marking critiques when we all brought along KS5 marking and task sheets, moved around the samples, commenting on a different focus in each move. We will be doing KS4 student forums soon and again, all the team will be involved in talking to small groups with a set of pre set questions. No graded observations have really encouraged staff to explore strategies and take risks. We will be having an ‘open doors’ two weeks after Christmas when all will be encouraged to drop in wherever. The team really like the new approach and our new members of staff are very enthusiastic about how useful this sharing has proved.

  4. Pingback: Education Panorama (December ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

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