I have been considering the decision of Ofsted to stop grading individual lessons during inspections. The reason is understandable – they did not want to give the impression that the impact of teaching, learning and assessment can be condensed into a snapshot of one lesson. This has triggered many providers to evaluate their procedures for judging the quality of their provision with some implementing non graded observations. But is this ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’?
Many words have been written on the effectiveness as well as the detrimental effects on staff of carrying out graded observations. But what must not be forgotten is that, when the approach and focus is right, observations themselves are an integral part of a staff member’s continuous professional development.
How to make sure observations really do contribute to improving teaching, learning and assessment? You must ensure the following apply:
1. All staff know the purpose of observing/being observed – a tool for informing CPD, an opportunity to share good practice.
2. Observers are well trained to observe, record and deliver feedback.
3. The observation judgement criteria focuses on learning.
4. There is an equal ‘power’ balance between the observer and observe; they regard each other as supportive professionals. The types of observations carried out include peer-support observations.
5. Observees actively contribute to the feedback.
6. Observations are only one of a number of sources of information used to assess the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. Others include learners’ progress, the standard of their work and their feedback etc., over time.
7. Judgement grading descriptors are less contentious and more supportive. e.g. support needed, good practice seen etc. Giving some criteria judgement make it easy to see improvements after remedial actions.
8. Staff are encouraged to be involved with their own learning by contributing to observation feedback, discussing their future needs and how they do/can contribute to the organisations improvement and by completing their own CPD.
9. The process has credibility and shows clearly staff development needs as identified, actioned, followed up – and the impact they have made.
10. Good practice is identified and readily shared through the organisation and with subcontractors.
Do you agree with the above but lack of time and the weight of the admin burden is preventing you getting the most from your observations? Maybe your present system is built around spreadsheets? In this case I would encourage you to investigate an online software system that allows layered levels of access, according to staff positions in the organization.