Research casts doubt on US observation approach

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Introducing more frequent and structured lesson observations makes no difference to pupils’ GCSE outcomes in English and maths, according to the latest research findings from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The results of a study involving 14,100 pupils in 82 secondary schools have been published as part of the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which looks at the efficacy of Pupil Premium strategies and interventions.

The Teacher Observation approach involves more frequent and structured lesson observations where teachers observe their colleagues and give them feedback.

The intervention was designed and delivered by a team from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the University of Bristol with an independent evaluation conducted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER).

The randomised controlled trial saw maths and English teachers in the schools asked to take part in at least six structured 20-minute peer observations over a two-year period (with a suggested number of between 12 and 24).

Teachers then rated each other on specific elements of a lesson, like how well they managed behaviour, engaged students in learning or used discussion techniques.

The investigation was funded by the EEF after a US study found that structured lesson observation led to gains in student and teacher performance.

However, the evaluation by NFER researchers found that the GCSE pupils made, on average, no more progress in combined English and maths scores than a similar group of pupils whose teachers did not take part. A statement from the EEF said: “The findings from this study have a very high level of security. However, it is important to note that many of the comparison schools said that they were already doing some lesson observation of some sort. What these results suggest is that this structured observation programme does not have any benefits over existing levels of peer observation.”

Sir Kevan Collins, EEF chief executive, added: “We know that quality of teaching is one of the biggest drivers of pupil attainment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. But when it comes to developing teachers, it’s the type of feedback and professional development that schools use that really matters.

“This research tells us that schools shouldn’t expect to see an improvement in results by increasing the frequency and intensity of their teacher observations.

“Focusing on proven ways of improving teaching – like tried and tested CPD courses and feedback methods - are likely to reap bigger rewards.”


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