On the back of the half term meeting when the ‘famous five’ went to visit at Ofsted there has now been a flurry of posts on lesson observations. To be fair lesson observations have always been a highly emotive issue. They cause huge amounts of stress for anyone being observed. So let’s look at the reasons for observations.
Ofsted observe lessons as part of a whole packet of measures to check the accuracy of the school’s SEF form for the strand of teaching and learning. Lesson observations should include book scrutiny, data scrutiny, chat with children and actually observing teaching. A holistic view should be taken, not just the view of the teaching. As we now know Ofsted are not meant to judge the quality of teaching and give a grade based solely on the teaching. This seems to be the bone of contention. Some SLT have not got the message and are continuing to grade lessons.
Personally I don’t have an issue with lesson observations. If the rules are observed and everyone remembers that the teaching is only one aspect of the lesson all should be well. None of us are so clever that we are above being advised on how to improve. Also, as I’ve said many times before, we should be accountable, we have the future of our nation in our hands.
So that’s Ofsted and a brief overview of their reason for observations. Now we come to SLT. Yesterday I read a cracking post about lesson observations and one person’s experience of it. I couldn’t retweet it as to my mind in one part it was very scathing of SLT. As a member of SLT myself I have to be careful before I add my name to anything that is damaging to senior leadership teams. I give a great deal of thought before I do so. In this case I don’t know the school or the team and wasn’t in possession of the full facts so I decided not to retweet. All that is fair enough. As the evening wore on I could see that there was a growing theme surrounding this blog. The message about lesson observations and their short comings was being lost and it was turning more in to a witch hunt for SLT. In the case of that particular school that might be fair comment. In many schools it isn’t!
Senior Leadership teams observe for the same reason as Ofsted. We need to check that what we are claiming on the SEF form is actually true. We need to see that the data is being used and that books are marked and behaviour issues are dealt with. Furthermore we actually do it to protect our teachers. If when Ofsted come and a teacher who is normally rock solid has an off day we can show that this is not their usual performance. Believe it or not we don’t observe to make life stressful for teachers.
In my school we have the ethos that the children are at the centre of everything we do. If it doesn’t benefit the children then we don’t do it. Lesson observations do. We don’t do many as we have a model of coaching and peer mentoring but we do enough to know that our SEF form is an accurate assessment of our school. It’s also important to remember that SLT are also teachers. Not all, but most. When observations are underway I am also being observed. I am suffering the same stress as everyone else, as is my Head Teacher. We do do know what you’re going through as we are going through it ourselves. Junior teachers and middle leaders observe us too and we learn from their comments.
So in answer to my own question, are SLT and Ofsted joined at the hip. No we aren’t. Ofsted want to drive up standards of education in this country and have their methods for doing that. I make no comment on their methods. SLT want the best for our pupils and our staff. In my school we want every child, teacher and TA to be the best that they can be. I make no apologies for that. My school has it right. Some SLT may not have it right yet, but I’m sure that no one has forgotten the children amid all the lesson observations as one person commented last night. Surely as a profession we can all agree that children should be at the centre of everything we do. If lesson observations are a necessary evil towards improving education for our children then so be it. In my school at least, we’re all in it together.