Ofsted to scrap graded lesson observations in FE

22nd May 2015 at 16:04
picture of ofsted

Ofsted is to scrap graded lesson observations in inspections of futher education providers, the watchdog has confirmed.

Despite ditching individual lesson grades in schools last year after sustained criticism from teachers, the watchdog decided to hang on to them in FE pending the results of pilots of ungraded observations.

At the time, Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsted’s national director for learning and skills, said that although some practitioners were opposed to lesson grades, senior managers often found them a useful yardstick against which improvements could be measured.

This afternoon, an Ofsted spokesperson told TES: “From September 2015, Ofsted will implement a number of changes to the way further education and skills providers are inspected.

“In preparing for these changes, Ofsted has consulted with FE and skills providers on a variety of sector-specific issues and conducted numerous pilot inspections to test the changes. In response to our findings, we have taken the decision to no longer grade the quality of teaching in individual learning sessions.

“This change will be reflected in Ofsted’s new handbook for the inspection of FE and skills, which we will publish before the end of the summer term.”

The news was welcomed by the University and College Union. “UCU has long argued that graded lesson observation is a box-ticking exercise that piles the pressure on staff but ultimately is of no discernible benefit,” said Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary.

“Watching one lesson is not a fair or reliable way to judge a person’s professional competence and we are pleased Ofsted is looking seriously at getting rid of it. It is time for a sea-change in culture to overhaul this failed method of assessment.”

Ms Fitzjohn said last year that there were doubts about whether the sector was “mature enough” to cope without grading lesson observations.

Lesson grades have long been controversial in the sector. Matt O’Leary, a research fellow in post-compulsory education at the University of Wolverhampton’s Centre for Research and Development in Lifelong Education, who has carried out extensive research on lesson observations, told TES last year that an overwhelming majority of teachers found them to be “a completely pointless exercise”.

But in a written submission to a consultation on grading, Exeter College principal Richard Atkins said the grades helped large colleges understand their overall quality of teaching. Most teachers wanted to receive a grade, he added. 

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