Teaching and Learning One Year Later …

Reading time: 4
shutterstock_294782234 Man fingers setting trust button on highest position. Concept image for illustration of high confidence level.


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...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

If you no longer grade individual lessons, how do you monitor the overall quality of teaching and learning in your school?

Last year, we removed lesson gradings for all teachers; we also stopped our teachers wasting time with any need for laborious lesson plans. We asked our teachers to mark smarter and asked that they refrained from marking every page in students’ books. Over the course of the year (2014/15), we left our teachers to conduct their appraisal observations and lead their own faculty learning walks and book looks. At leadership level we did not do anything else. We just let our teachers get on with it!

This was quite a high risk strategy, considering we have been branded as a Requires Improvement school. I know we were judged unfairly and that we are a Good school.

Despite this unspoken pressure, we were embedding lots of new ideas; tweaking systems; improving the way that we view teaching and learning … and with this, we have allowed teachers to just get on with teaching. We delivered our expectations and consistencies through teacher-led CPD, action research and INSET days I managed and led with staff.

shutterstock_228919591 trust reliability integrity competence

Image: Shutterstock

One year on, we have published our Learning Policy which outlines – very simply – what we do and do not want our teachers to do. Throughout 2015/16, it is now time to quality assure all the various elements of teaching and learning that we have introduced and are now embedding.

In the summer of 2015, I talked about our Learning Policy that we have recently introduced; working on a Mark-Plan-Teach model and have reduced the need for unnecessary work load; for example lesson planning and marking every page on student books and are now hoping to see the benefits of this in place.

Last week I shared our new MER (Monitoring, Evaluating and Review) cycle with middle leaders, a document I hope to determine workload and workflow over a longer period of time. On this calendar you can see the various things that we will be looking at in more detail and many of the areas we want our middle leaders to self-evaluate. 

What is an MER Cycle?

To undertake the monitoring of standards, quality and school improvement the following principles will be adopted:  

  • Procedures across the school and over time will be systematic;
  • In order to ensure that the procedures are manageable, evidence will consider samples of information across the school over time;  
  • Governors, the Headteacher, Deputy Headteacher, School Leadership Team, Subject Leaders, teachers and non-teaching staff all have a role to play.
  • These responsibilities will be made clear in this overall structure and appropriate resources will be provided to enable the responsibilities to be carried out.
  • A range of information will be gathered from different sources and over time so that secure and reliable judgements can be reached;  procedures will be clear, simple, sustainable and understood by all members of the school’s team.
  • The MER cycle will also determine workflow and workload over time, and will inform – not replace – the school calendar.

The calendar is designed to align with our four school priorities.

MER Cycle Monitoring Evaluation Review

Many of the tasks are light touch quality checks to gauge how far we have come over the past 12 months.

Department-Led Learning Walks:

Next week our departments will be leading their own learning walks and book look; this is for heads of department to gauge how well the learning policy has started off this academic year. Later on in the term, we will complete the normal quality assurance observations and also take a more detailed look at marking across the entire school to see what systems are being embedded and where we still need to improve. This will not be a ‘catch the teacher out’ process; I want to reassure my readers that we want to quality assure what we are doing; how far we have come and where we are yet to go.

Later on in November we hope to quality assure our observations by training all senior teachers and middle leaders to be able to observe teaching overtime without one-off lesson gradings. How I plan to go about this process, will require every middle leader, post-holder and senior teacher to observe a teacher in and out of their departments; I would like to particularly equip all teachers to be confident to source progress over time from a variety of sources – without the need (or security for some) to be able to grade a teacher on an individual lesson.

This is best shown in this image that I regularly share on my blog.

Progress Over TIme @TeacherToolkit

I would like to take my staff forward, out of their comfort zones by asking them to go and observe a teachers outside of their own subject; we hope to equip teachers with a reliable source of information to be out to gauge how well the teachers moving progress over time; by looking at not looking for. This is not an easy feat to achieve, but I feel that our staff need this urgently now that we are one-year down the line without lesson gradings.

Questions, Questions, Questions:

The question that remains are;

  1. How do we engage quality teaching overtime in a landscape where we are no longer grading teaching?
  2. How do we know that teaching is good over time?
  3. How do we know what students are receiving in the lessons is typical?
  4. And how much of this information and those answers can we achieve in just 20 or 30 minutes dropping/observation?

Not a lot I hear you say(!) and I would agree with you; but the reason that I would like this to happen is much more than testing the water in terms of quality of teaching across the school. I want to equip our teachers with the confidence to be out to observe each other and to be able to make some assessment of what is going on the classroom without gradings. And all of the time, not just when an MER cycle says so, or when appraisal observations are due. Without gradings marks a new horizon for all of us; we must now be looking to equip our teachers to be able to make confident judgements of each other for the year ahead; to ensure it is also high quality and meaningful, as well as reliable and valid.


Here is our tweaked Learning Walk template; for formal observations we simply record ‘what went well’ and ‘even better if’ matched against pre-agreed foci taken from the Teachers’ Standards.

Learning Walks:

 These are our tweaked documents for 2015/16. We will also be using iPads to record information directly onto Blue Sky to reduce paperwork and duplication.

Learning Walks

Book Looks:

As for the week ahead, we also want all departments to be confident, looking in each other’s books to see how well our learning policy is/is not embedded in practice across the school.

Book Look template Scutiny

I will report back in late November after this process has been completed. If you would like a copy of the templates, please get in touch.


@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man

35 thoughts on “Teaching and Learning One Year Later …

    1. I’m implementing QA across the school and would really appreciate a copy of the templates you’ve mentioned. Could you send them to me please?



  1. Really useful Ross. Would it be possible to get a copy of the templates you use please? Nicholas Krista (Deputy Headteacher, Medina College.)

  2. Ross, I’d love to talk to you about the iPad app I have developed with a colleague to aid and encourage high quality peer observation and dialogue which can be use for personal professional development and whole-school improvement, audit and ongoing CPD. It’s called VEO (Video Enhanced Observation) and is a flexible, inexpensive system.
    It’s the online system which enables personal private portfolios alongside the option and opportunity to share which I think really creates a platform for school-wide change, but the iPad app is available for free download from: http://www.veo-group.com
    The tags you see can be edited to suit your needs, and we could easily accommodate a Learning-Walk tag-set featuring those characteristics you have identified on your sheets.
    You can email me on jon.haines@ncl.ac.uk if you’re interested in talking further, or I’ll be at BETT in January if that’s any good?:)
    Best wishes, Jon

      1. Great, please be sure to come and find Paul & I manning the VEO stand! I’m a fan/advocate of your blog and resources to my PGCE trainees too, so it would be good to meet you!

  3. Be interested to see how your staff respond to the EBIs. Will you sometime not do any? Sometimes the energy maintaining ‘this is working ok’ is enough, without the additional load of the expectation of EBI – maybe.

  4. Am very interest in your ideas. Am in primary phase and can see, with a few alterations, that your templates could be useful. I would very much appreciate copies of the templates. Thank you Elysa

  5. Please can you send me a copy of your templates. I also noted that you are using MINT class for seating plans but also read your article about class charts. I am currently undecided between the two, can you offer any advice please?

  6. Hi Ross, I found your blog a few days ago and am enthralled. Lots of awesome ideas that I will be using in my practice and as I head ‘up the ladder’. Please can I get a copy of those great templates? I’m not sure of your email…

  7. Hi Ross, great post as usual. A copy of the templates (learning walk and diagnostic look at book marking) would be extremely helpful if you’re able to share please.

  8. Hi Ross

    Any chance that you can send me a copy of your MER templates?

    They are exactly what we are looking for to help feed into our main calendar.

    Many thanks, and thank you for all of the fantastic ideas and supprot you give to teachers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.