Eye spy is no fun for pressured teachers

The huge rise in unannounced lesson visits by managers is putting staff under 'intolerable pressure', a union claims. Jon Slater reports

A sharp rise in the number of "drop-in" lesson observations has left teachers feeling as if they are living through a permanent Ofsted inspection, a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers reveals.

An eighth of all teachers face lesson observations at least six times every year with some reporting an increase of up to tenfold in the number of observations in the past 12 months. Some teachers have had their lessons scrutinised up to 14 times in a single year.

Many complained of observations conducted without warning and with little feedback on what was wrong or how their teaching could be improved. This put them under intolerable pressure, they said. But others said their lessons were never observed, despite repeated requests to management.

Almost half of the 336 ATL members surveyed during the summer term said their school either did not have a lesson observation policy or that they were unaware of one. Teachers' experiences varied significantly, with some praising the way their school used limited observation to help improve their lessons.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said: "Many schools have good lesson observations. But, a significant number are still guilty of either observation overkill, or observations fall woefully short of the standards teachers should expect from their managers.

"Those heads need to think more clearly about the purpose of the observations, how they are carried out and the frequency so that the observations give useful feedback to help improve teaching standards rather than corrode staff morale."

The survey found lesson observation had increased because of schools'

concerns about the new inspection system introduced last September.

This placed greater emphasis on schools' own self-evaluation with inspectors passing judgment on how well headteachers evaluate the performance of their staff.

Increases in lesson observations were a key concern at this year's conference and prompted the Government and its social partners - including the ATL - to agree to an annual limit of three hours of observations per teacher for performance management purposes.

Critics, including the National Union of Teachers, say this is worthless because schools are free to carry out as many observations as they like for other reasons.

The survey found a third of (32.5 per cent) teachers said they expected to be observed four or more times during 20056, up from 21 per cent the previous year.

The proportion of teachers being observed more than five times a year increased from 10.1 per cent in 20045 to 11.9 per cent.

Yet feedback remained inadequate in a quarter of schools with teachers complaining that it was carried out in their lunch hours, was too short or that what they were told verbally did not match the written report.

Observations were also carried out without agreed objectives and by people with no experience of teaching the age group concerned, teachers said.

Schools where lesson observation was praised by teachers were those who discussed objectives with teachers and attempted to maintain a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere.

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

The best...

* Lesson observations have always been a very positive and affirming experience for me. I value them as an important part of my professional development. Perhaps I'm just lucky to have a very supportive head who trusts his staff. We have just had a very successful Ofsted. Primary teacher, Nottinghamshire

* I am observed by my head who does all she can to make the process as friendly as possible while maintaining the highest level of professionalism. Primary teacher, Stockport

...and worst

* This year have been monitored 14 times by governors and senior teaching staff. I feel we are rather bombarded. Norfolk teacher with 13 years of experience

* The trend now is for "drop in" observations. These are done without the courtesy of greeting me when the observer drops in. Feedback has never been given. Secondary teacher, East Sussex

* I have never been observed teaching, despite asking to be. My head says she is 'too busy'. I very much doubt I will be observed this year unless Ofsted come. Primary teacher, Lincolnshire

* Speaking as an experienced teacher, I find the pressure of being constantly watched intolerable. I thought it may be my age, but new teachers say the pressure for them is equally intolerable. It is very destructive - like permanent Ofsted. Secondary teacher, Birmingham

* These observations are just to tick boxes and have no real value. They do not move my teaching forward. Often I am told by the observer: "I had to search for an area for you to develop." Primary teacher, Cornwall

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