Observations vs data


The on-going debate over the value of lesson observation judgements has concerned our headteacher diarist, who fears that if judgements disappear then all we will be left with is a heavier reliance on data.

I have an outstanding lead teacher who is well-versed in the education blogging world. A voracious writer and educational reader, she can be found on her increasingly popular blog Ed-U-Like (edulike.blogspot.co.uk).

The power and role of blogs and social media is certainly a topical debate in education. A while ago, I received an excited email entitled “The power of Twitter”, which came after a meeting took place between Ofsted and five articulate bloggers.

The purpose of this meeting, as has already been reported in SecEd, was to discuss the inspectorate’s position when it comes to lesson observations and the grading of lessons. The email stated that at the meeting Ofsted has confirmed that the grading of individual lessons is not allowed and is not an Ofsted requirement (and in fact never was).

Indeed, it is my understanding, as a new Ofsted inspector myself, that this is not new – short observations do not currently require judgements, but are simply used in establishing an overall judgement of a school. Lesson grading is a contentious issue and for many teachers, most inspectors and many headteachers there was obvious rejoicing at this confirmation.

In particular, the removal of short-term grades given after just 20 minutes of observation is likely to receive universal staffroom support from teachers frustrated at the ad-hoc nature of such a stressful method of judgement.

Furthermore, we have all worked with colleagues who can pull out the special lesson when the need arises and then rest on their laurels for the remainder of the year, ignoring CPD developmental points as they bask in the glory of their outstanding grade (and sometimes hide behind results that are protected by taking the best classes).

The hope is clearly that the careful judgements of a teacher’s quality will now be based on much more than a brief, rushed lesson observation with unsatisfactory feedback (which is sometimes given while simultaneously supervising the lunch queue!).

I welcome this whole debate as an opportunity to create a wider range of criteria for establishing what constitutes good teaching. However, I do worry about the negative consequences – not least that this could leave schools vulnerable in other ways. For example, Ofsted inspectors will be delighted at not having to make individual judgements (while it has never been a requirement, we all know that many inspectors still do it) because their decision about a school will now, even more so, be based on the data. “How can teaching and learning be good over time when the data disproves this?” we will be asked.

What worries me is that for those in deprived areas and for good teachers this is a dangerous approach. It presumes that good teachers and good schools get only good results, but with a flawed exam system and many other challenges facing education today, lesson observations have allowed me to argue with inspectors that their judgement (made pre-arrival at the school based on the data) is not an accurate reflection. 

Furthermore, what will Joe Public and the critical media think of headteachers who feel unable to grade lessons? Simplistically, this takes away the judgement and places data at the core of this process and that makes me feel very uneasy. 

For my school’s experienced union rep this is a lovely development, which means that we can agree to disagree rather than pontificate for hours over developmental points when a decision or judgement has to be made. 

All I want is for a fair playing field – financially, developmentally and academically – with a system that allows the most able to be rewarded and, where necessary, judgements to continue and be about the teaching rather than the teacher – because that’s important for all!

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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