Right judges, your lesson observation scores please…


I’ve been teaching a long time and I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time.  One of the biggest changes is what constitutes a good lesson.  Expectations have increased over the years and successive OFSTED frameworks have reinforced these expectations, combined with punitive measures for schools that don’t pay heed.

I’ve always seen myself as a competent teacher, my students have always got good results (more recently we’ve had measures such as FFT and progression guidance to compare results with targets etc).  I’ve been an advanced skills teacher in the past and been subject to numerous Ofsted/HMI inspections without issue.  My strengths come in working with lower attaining students and thinking of new and creative ways to ‘deliver content’ – ie teaching.

Once again I find that my teaching “requires improvement” which in the current educational climate might as well mean that your teaching is s**t.  As is standard when giving feedback I received the “poo sandwich”.  I’m sure you’ve used this technique yourself – you start with something positive (the bread) and then you give the difficult message (the poo) before finishing off with something positive (more bread).

I’d picked a lesson from my scheme of work and spruced it up and built a lesson around capturing some real data and combining it with some supplied data to build up a hypothesis.  I’d scaffolded what I expected my students to produce, and they worked safely and followed instructions.  There was lots of questioning (directed around the five students in the class!) and their understanding of key concepts was good.  Suggestions for improvement hinted that  I should have had my TA posing beside the board as in “Wheel of Fortune” pointing out key words from a list I should have displayed (no mention of gold high heels and leotard fortunately), I should have given my students three questions to think about while they watched the short pre-practical video clip (of under three minutes duration), and I should have considered including all students in the questioning (although the positives say the five students were confident to ask and answer questions, and I’m not sure how you cannot direct questions evenly around a class of only five students).

My point isn’t intended to be critical of the school and the team that observed my lesson (not even the wannabe leader who looks like he’s on an apprenticeship) , but to highlight the ambiguity that surrounds observing lessons for 15/20 minute snippets.

What can I take away from this experience – as a senior leader who is meant to be responsible for teaching and learning, I find that my confidence has been severely knocked.  The careers of my staff could be at risk if I make inaccurate judgements, and despite having carried out joint observations with Ofsted in the past (where we agreed on strengths and weaknesses of the lessons), I doubt if I could recognise a good lesson from a requires improvement!  More importantly, like so many other teachers at the moment, I find myself wondering if this is really the career I want to pursue for the next twenty years…

To make myself feel better I looked up my tracking data on SIMS (which has been moderated against other special schools).

Keystage Number of students on track to make average progress or better (progression guidance) Number of students on track to make better than average progress (Progression guidance UQ)
3 95% 85%
4 94% 75%


I ask this question – is there a better way of measuring the quality of what goes on in the classroom than short, infrequent lesson observations?  Does my moderated tracking data (and even work in student books) not give an indication of my classroom practice?  If we want to retain teachers in the classroom shouldn’t we be looking at more constructive ways of quality assurance?

I’d be interested to hear your comments.


5 replies on “Right judges, your lesson observation scores please…”

  1. That sounds like a tough experience. The answer to your question at the end “is there a better way of measuring the quality of what goes on in the classroom than short, infrequent lesson observations?” is “Yes, a triangulation of data such as the data you quoted, more frequent observations from well-trained observers, and possibly student surveys (done the right way).” However, the first question to ask is whether measuring teacher effectiveness beyond a minimum level of competence is a good way for a school to improve teaching. I suspect not for experienced teachers because I don’t think it motivates experienced teachers to improve. However, if schools are going to do it then there are some schools which seem to be doing it quite well and they provide examples. Also there are some decent reviews of the research into measuring teacher effectiveness and the MET project in the US has produced some good material although the executive summary is too brief and the full report too technical. My answer comes partly from that project. Best wishes and good luck.

  2. I think sometimes involving students in the discussion of what helps them learn provides useful insights too.

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