Thursday, November 22, 2007

Graded Lesson Observations

We’ve had another instance in a nearby school of a maverick, control freak head. This time she wanted to ‘grade’ lesson observations as either ‘emerging, evident or embedded’. With some help from the union, the staff all stood firm and she was forced to back down.

Even Ofsted don’t require lesson observations by line managers to be graded, after all they are the experts (?). Also line mangers have not been trained to the same ‘high’ level of Ofsted inspectors.

If lessons in schools are graded there is no appeal mechanism it is purely the subjective viewpoint of one manager. In many schools it would be used as a crude way of attacking any staff that disagreed with the head or senior management.

One teacher in another school had a lesson marked down because there was no differentiation, this was based on a twenty-minute observation. She appealed to the head because her lesson plan showed clear differentiation.

An enlightening book on primary education was David Winkley’s ‘Handsworth Revolution’, which chronicles how he developed an excellent school in inner city Birmingham using music, art and literature. He had some fairly trenchant comments about the drive to standardise and grade schools, teachers and lessons. He noted,

‘We can pile children into classrooms, but they are never as predictable as tins of baked beans on supermarket shelves. If one child in a class of thirty decides to throw a pencil during an Ofsted-inspected lesson, this will lower the lesson grade. Baked-bean tins, when weighed and counted, will not move, of have moods or cry.’

There was an interesting article in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) by London head Mike Kent, he explained how he didn’t go into classes with a clipboard but dropped into classes and talked to children and teachers.

‘It seems to me, therefore, that I'm very aware of what's going on in my school. But what I refuse to do is sit in the corner of a classroom with a clipboard, ticking boxes on the teacher's performance in an "Ofsted-approved" manner. What for? To produce automatons with identical approaches to everything? It's patronising, invasive and unnecessary. And who says Ofsted has got it right anyway?’

During an Ofsted inspection he was criticised for not observing lessons…

‘Naturally, the lead inspector didn't agree with me, and one of the recommendations was that I should get into the classrooms and assess formally. So for half a term I did just that. I became an inspector rather than a resource, and I learned nothing about my teachers and classrooms that I didn't know already. Then I went back to doing what I knew worked best. There is, I think, something lacking in schools today. It's called "trusting the teachers".’


I quite enjoy being rated as long as the rating is "good" or better.

However, having changed schools more than once I can't help noticing that in my first year in a school I am consistently rated no better than satisfactory and in my second year I am consistently rated no worse than good.

I don't think that this has anything to do with my teaching ability varying, it's just that they assess things like authority with the students, compliance with the observer's personal preferences, ability to predict trouble and how much they see you as a good teacher anyway. Anything other than the ability to plan and deliver a lesson.
Yes, glad to get a good (with outstanding elements! woo hoo!) this year. The most contructive comments though were that the pupils in the group had obviously been well taught previously. It was good to hear that the deputy head was not just interested in ticking the boxes, but was interested in the overall progress of the pupils.
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