Ofsted steps-up fight to end grading of lesson observations


Ofsted has launched a pilot project that will see 'gradeless' lesson observations. Inspectors in the Midlands have been told to stop grading lessons and to use a broader approach to judging teaching quality. Pete Henshaw reports.

Ofsted’s has stepped up its on-going battle to stop the grading of lessons with the launch of a pilot programme across the Midlands.

From Monday (June 9), inspectors visiting schools in the region will not enter a grade for teaching on individual lesson observation forms.

Whether inspectors should award a grade for the lessons they observe has become a key educational debate this year.

In February, Ofsted’s national director for schools, Mike Cladingbowl, stressed that observations form just one part of the evidence that Ofsted looks at when judging the quality of teaching and that lessons should not be graded.

In an article, he said that evidence of quality of teaching was drawn from a range of sources, such as work in books, marking, and the school’s own evaluations.

He wrote: “On average, inspectors may spend only 25 minutes or so in each lesson. It would be nonsensical to suggest that an Ofsted inspector could give a definitive validation of a teacher’s professional competency in such a short time.

“Inspectors should not give an overall grade for the lesson and nor should teachers expect one.”

However, schools have told SecEd that some inspectors are continuing to grade the lessons they observe, while some schools and teachers are still requesting lesson grades.

Launching the new pilot scheme this week, Mr Cladingbowl emphasised that inspectors “must always visit classrooms and see teachers and children working”. However, he said that this does not mean that inspectors need to “ascribe a numerical grade to the teaching they see”.

In the pilot inspections, inspectors will not enter a grade for teaching on each lesson observation form, but will use evidence gathered throughout “all of their observation and other relevant inspection activities” to produce a “summary evidence form” about the quality of teaching.

Mr Cladingbowl said: “I am still concerned that ineffective and unnecessary lesson observation is going on in too many of our schools. I think the time has come to try something different. 

“While I am confident that most inspectors have got the message, I fear it is not yet established firmly enough in schools. I suspect that many in the profession still think that teaching can be assessed well by observing, episodically, a few aspects of an individual’s work for only a short period of time.”

The pilot will see inspectors recording their observations about “what is going well and what is going less well”.

Mr Cladingbowl continued: “But inspectors will not feedback a specific teaching grade or use grades to arrive at an overall judgement. They will summarise the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching they encounter, along with plentiful other evidence from the scrutiny of books, discussions with teachers and children, the school’s own view of teaching and so on.

“Taken together, this will provide a catalyst for discussion and allow inspectors to form a view about teaching overall.”

He added: “None of this runs contrary to the key inspection guidance available to inspectors. Nor will it give preferment to schools where the new approach is tried out.”

Mr Cladingbowl added that inspectors should not expect to see a particular style of teaching: “I am adamant that neither schools nor individuals should use inspection to justify their own particular view. Too often, teachers tell me that teaching is evaluated narrowly or they are told to plan lessons in a particular way, or even to adopt a specific way of teaching, because ‘that’s what Ofsted wants’. Well, it usually isn’t.”

Ofsted has issued new guidance to inspectors for the pilot. It states: “When in lessons, inspectors may wish to use a variety of strategies to gather evidence. They may spend a longer period of time in some lessons and combine direct observation with work scrutiny, analysis of progress data for that class and talking to pupils about their learning and typical behaviour over time. Inspectors may wish to follow that with an in-depth discussion with the teacher. Whatever the observation strategy, inspectors must gather a broad range of evidence about the impact of teaching over time.”

School leaders this week said it was “common sense” that short observations did not give an accurate reflection of a teacher’s ability.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We strongly agree that inspectors must always visit classrooms and see teachers and children working.

“However, this shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. The focus on grading individual lessons has been an unhelpful distraction. Gaining an overall impression of teaching and learning and using this as the basis for a professional dialogue with senior leaders is a much more intelligent form of accountability.”

His counterpart at the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, added: “It is common sense that you cannot get a true picture of a teacher’s performance during a single snapshot. And this is backed up by research in the US.

“As we move away from preferred styles of teaching towards observing learning, inspection faces some real challenges. Teaching is visible, learning is often hidden in the mind of the student. The days of the passive lesson observation are therefore coming to an end.

“Inspectors and leaders will need to engage with the students and speak to them about their experience. This will require greater skill and a slower pace, which also present challenges to the industrial scale model of inspection favoured by Ofsted.”

For more information on the pilot, visit www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/guidance-for-inspectors-observing-teaching-pilot-schools


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