Don't stop grading lesson observations, Ofsted tells providers

Stephen Exley

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Ofsted may have scrapped graded lesson observations from its inspections, but the watchdog does not expect providers to abandon the practice altogether, an official has confirmed.

Despite the fact the inspectorate has decided to stop grading individual lessons itself, Her Majesty’s Inspector Phil Romain has stressed that if training providers and colleges have “good reasons” to continue grading lessons internally, Ofsted does not want them to stop doing so.

Speaking at a workshop at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP) annual conference in London this week, Mr Romain said it was up to individual providers to decide whether to utilise graded observations.

“It’s important that we’re not saying to the sector, you shouldn't do it,” he said. “If you've got good reasons for doing those things, there [are] very good reasons, probably, why you would want to continue doing them.”

Mr Romain told delegates that providers were free to grade lessons “for your own purposes, which are probably linked to performance management to help you understand who the best teachers are and who the less effective teachers are”.

But although he acknowledged that getting rid of graded observations had prompted a “mixed” reaction in the sector, Mr Romain said the move had allowed inspectors to give better feedback to teachers.

“We do observations as part of a broader understanding of the quality of teaching and learning in your organisation,” he told delegates. “We’re not highlighting individuals; we're looking at teaching and learning and assessment in an organisation. We do it for a different purpose…we didn’t grade observations in the [inspection] pilots. It actually gave inspectors a freer way of looking at the broad development of learners’ skills...if we don’t give [teachers] a number, it frees the inspectors up to…look more broadly beyond that at…the whole process of teaching and assessment."

But teachers and tutors would continue to receive feedback from inspectors, Mr Romain insisted. “They’ll get feedback – we’ll absolutely spend time observing an assessor or tutor, and say where [the lesson] worked, where it didn’t work, but we won’t give a grade,” he added.

At a conference on lesson observations at the University of Wolverhampton last week, lecturer Matt O'Leary likened the practice to Japanese knotweed in the way it had "infested" and "undermined" the foundations of the education system in England. And he told delegates the end of graded lesson observations by Ofsted was an opportunity for teachers to "wrestle back some of the authority and autonomy" that they had lost in recent years.

"It is time for teachers to reclaim lesson observation," he added.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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