Department Diagnostic

Reading time: 3
shutterstock_347189345 Self diagnosis


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

How does your school diagnose individual staff needs?


15 or 16 months ago, we moved away from lesson gradings and are still developing our ‘over-time’ methodology. There is also a sense of a ‘3-observations-per-year’ culture which still remains and is slowly dissipating. The remnants of a grading-methodology gone by, based on a outdated union-informed process evident in schools (and ours); arguably justified at the time considering the impact one-off gradings has had on school inspection outcomes and on teachers’ careers.

Is it time to bin the three-lessons-observation (see no. 1) culture once and for all?

We now know that one-off gradings have an unreliable status, yet given that we are all, or at least 50% of schools across England are now no longer grading teachers and individual lessons, I would imagine that many schools like ourselves are in a transition and still moving towards a method of coaching and mentoring teachers. This may be in teams, professional development sessions, or identified and supported in small groups and/or in triads to help pinpoint teaching needs.


This is a working document and will evolve throughout the year; it offers no silver bullet and is shared here for feedback.

In our school, we will establish a coaching and mentoring model over the next 6 months-to-2 years with frequent observations taking place by all staff every other week. Of course, the immediate challenge with this is time, but we hope – whatever and however this model evolves from coaching and mentoring influences – to establish a little and often frequency with very precise and pinpointed feedback to help develop all teachers new and old. Feedback that is not over complicated, and is regularly reviewed until the teacher has acted on feedback given. This will also require some training and transformation.

This is not a numbers game. Nor is it an evidence gathering exercise which has been evident in many aspects of leading teaching and learning (including mine) for the past decade or so. This is a genuine attempt to communicate between individual, teams and whole school; to gather an overview of what is typically going on in classrooms over time. And most importantly, to give staff the opportunity to be developed without fear or repercussion; to share best practice across the school, compliment needs and be given the support and opportunity to develop and thrive.

shutterstock_262406060 Closeup portrait clueless senior health care professional doctor with stethoscope, has no answer, doesn't know right diagnosis standing in hospital hallway isolated clinic office windows background.

Image: Shutterstock

In the remainder of this post, I explain how a new and evolving document is laid out and how it aims to capture what is known and what needs to be done.

Department Diagnostic:

There are 6 pages to this document, below you can see 4 of these pages which have been anonymised. On the right-hand side of the images, you can see comments I have added purely to assist with explanations in the blogpost.


Page 1 provides the overview. What is the purpose of this document? What information is being collated and why?

Every department will own one of these diagnostic reports, tailored to suit their own teaching staff; a document which is designed and collated by myself and @SuperAsmy.

Department Diagnostic

Click to enlarge


Needs Analysis:

Page 2 provides a needs analysis of every teacher in one department, matched against sub-headings defined by the Teachers’ Standards. The document image below is hyperlinked and provides deeper analysis by standard and by teacher, providing an overview of expertise and areas for development. This is central to live CPD feeds and will be used to offer differentiated training.

Department Diagnostic

Click to enlarge

Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment:

Page 3 offers an overview of observations term by term. As we are using Google, we can now live hyperlinked documents to various sources of information to help provide further analysis to assist with development. Perhaps this may also offer a stream of hyperlinked IRIS video clips for the department to watch.

Department Diagnostic

Click to enlarge

CPD Needs:

Page 4 aims to bring everything together by asking the department to self-identify their greatest CPD need for the term ahead. I see this document evolving to have more details and options offered under the headings, Mark-Plan-Teach. The overview may also provide areas of expertise so that teachers opt in to lead CPD sessions for other staff.

When collated by department across the school, the whole-school overview will provide any school with a significant perspective of strengths and needs; all achieved without any lesson grade …

Department Diagnostic

Click to enlarge

What do you think? How do you collate an overview of teaching and learning by department and maintain this information centrally, without databases, gradings or percentage figures? And most importantly, what do you do with this information to help teachers and departments become better at what they are doing to help students make progress?

This document is a first draft and will evolve.

Do leave your thoughts in the comments below.


@TeacherToolkit logo new book Vitruvian man TT


14 thoughts on “Department Diagnostic

  1. Hi, superb looking document. Is this type of thing created with a special piece of software or it is a word document with hyperlinks and an excel sheet underpinning the data/colour codings?

    1. Graph is taken from Blue Sky software. Easily created with Google Form which I may end up designing so that entire overview is from one FREE piece of software which needs no other login.
      Everything else is hyperlinked to documents already created by departments, just collated into one central place for ease of access and to assist with pinpointed CPD action plan.

      No grades.
      No data.
      No judgements.

  2. Love this. Have used your lesson observation and book scutiny templates and adapted them for my context to make QA judgements of T and L. Are you intending to allow downloads of each template?

    1. Hi Dave, the reason I didn’t blog about downloading or sharing this here was my own workload. Last blogs have had over 100+ requests, so I either share the resource in the blog and/or remove my email to request it. Email me at for a copy.

      1. Hi Ross,

        Have tried to email you using the address above however it is saying that it is not correct. Please could you provide an alternative so I can contact you .


  3. A very interesting document that will no doubt move L&T forward in your school. As you have said the pressure point is time. We are on a similar journey. Can I ask how long will the observations be and is there time for feedback for department and individuals built in?

    1. Hi Mark. Hope observations will be between 10-20 minutes and feedback no more than 20-30. Nothing set in stone yet. Hoping to start coaching and mentoring training for 10 staff this term as a starting point with a model developing ready for September roll out

  4. What do you do in a school with a one form entry (18 pupils per year max) with 8 members of staff teaching the 8 subjects – each on their own, the whole department? We do not have groups of teachers to mentor each other in a department even DH is full time teacher too.

  5. Hi I like this. We are on a similar journey if transformation in our school. Since September we have used 15 min obs every 3 weeks followed by ‘coaching’ conversations. Staff love it and impact on t&l is evident. However the pig in the dress is the recording and monitoring…Govs still want percentages of good teaching judgements with the adage of ‘over time’. A term and a half into this my biggest worry is still consistency and the labour intensive ‘paper trail’. Work in progress I guess but reassuring to read your post…thank you.

    1. Hello Danielle, I don’t have an updated version, sorry. If I did this again, I’d look to move it to digital, cover less detail and zoom in on very specific detail. It all depends on if you want an overview document (state of the nation), want to use it to evaluate where to go next, or as a genuine tool for departments to use.

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.