Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

This guest post was written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.
For as long as we can all remember, teachers have loathed Ofsted inspections and, in particular, formal lesson observations. The dreaded visits that once gave you sleepless nights for a week leading up to it, then became a frantic overnight planning exercise to ensure you were ready to face the inspectors. Some teachers didn’t sleep, others broke out into a cold sweat, and it sent others over the edge. And all of this in pursuit of a grade…..a grade that either defined you as a school or an individual teacher.
One thing is for sure, most of the teaching profession hated it and despised being evaluated as a teacher on a 20 minute snapshot of your career. For years, teachers and unions battled to try and change this culture of snapshot grading, but it wasn’t until very recently that we seemed to reach a tipping point. The tipping point was two-fold. Firstly, came the power of the previously relatively unheard voice from the chalkface. Due to the internet and advances in blogging, teachers suddenly had a platform to voice their opinions. There was now a swell of very well educated voices, from NQT’s to Headteachers, who were making the case for non-judgemental individual lesson observations. These teachers had put together very sound arguments for removing graded observations. Secondly, and probably more importantly due to its scientific nature, was the wealth of research that Professor Robert Coe published. In his research, Professor Coe demonstrated how graded lesson observations were an unreliable source of professional judgement and that we seldom get an accurate judgement more than 60% of the time.
With this information now in the public domain, together with the voices from the chalkface getting louder about the need to remove graded observations, Ofsted took the decision to re-structure the evaluation of teaching in schools and finally removed the need for individually graded lesson observations. Instead, teaching would now be judged over time via a range of sources of evidence. This was a huge victory for all of the voices that had campaigned for this change for so long, many of which were concerned about workload and work induced stress. However, what probably wasn’t expected was where the emphasis would shift.
Although the individually graded lesson observation had now disappeared from the Ofsted armoury, it was never going to be the case that pressure on teachers would disappear altogether. It just reappears in a different guise somewhere else….and in this case it reappeared in the form of work scrutiny. Work scrutiny is now seen as one of the more reliable ways to evidence the quality of teaching over time. By looking at a set of books you can see how much work has been set and completed, the type and difficulty of this work, the quality of work produced by the students, their presentation and attitude to learning, and the quality of marking and feedback together with student responses to this. There is now no hiding place for any teacher. What was once a one off 20 minute nervous ‘interview style’ lesson observation once every two years, has now become an inspection of your teaching from every single lesson you teach.
The emphasis on work scrutiny to provide an accurate picture of the quality of teaching has already started spreading like wildfire in schools across the country. Schools are now readying themselves for inspections by conducting their own work scrutiny several times per year recording evidence to accurately grade the quality of teaching for either individuals, faculties or the whole school. Many teachers are already feeling the strain of this intense pressure, as the expectations on the quality and frequency of marking and feedback has increased significantly. No longer is it acceptable to just mark a piece of work and provide detailed comments on what the student did well and what they need to do better. The bar has been raised so that your marking must give students an opportunity to act on their feedback and demonstrate improvement and the subsequent impact of your marking.
In an educational landscape where we are trying to reduce the workload of teachers so that they have the time and energy to plan highly engaging and inspirational lessons, it seems that this change in how we evaluate the quality of teaching may be more accurate, but may have served to add even more stress and pressure to an already tired profession. When we think about the years that teachers lobbied for Ofsted to change their stance on individually graded formal lesson observations and the joy it brought many a teacher up and down the country when we heard the news that this would now a thing of the past, it reminds you to be careful what you wish for!

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