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Graded lesson observations 'stressful' and 'ineffective', say lecturers

Graded lesson observations have no impact on the quality of teaching and learning in colleges, according to a survey of lecturers.

A year-long research project into the widely-used practice found that most lecturers do not believe a “snapshot” classroom observation of a teacher is a valid or reliable way to judge their ability.

Researcher Dr Matt O’Leary of the University of Wolverhampton surveyed almost 4,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) as part of the largest ever account of lesson observation in colleges.

His research found many lecturers saw them as a source of stress, and also reported they were used as a disciplinary measure linked to capability procedures. In fact, almost 90 per cent of respondents agreed that unannounced observations would lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety among staff.

The majority of respondents said observations were unwelcome, ineffective and had not helped them improve as teachers.

Only just over 10 per cent said they were the fairest way of assessing staff competence and performance of staff, while 67.4 per cent said they should no longer be used as a form of teacher assessment.

Dr O’Leary’s report, published today, sets out 10 recommendations to transform teacher assessment, calling graded lesson observations a “pointless exercise”.

““The sooner we put an end to this pernicious practice, the better the sector will be for it,” he added.

He said that although removing grading would be a step in the right direction, real “root and branch” reform was needed.

At the UCU’s annual congress in Manchester last month, FE members called on the union to campaign for the practice to be abolished saying it was “a source of rancor, conflict and stress for lecturers” and only done to make colleges "Ofsted-ready".

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Graded lesson observation is a box-ticking exercise that piles the pressure on staff but ultimately is of no discernible benefit. Watching one lesson is not a fair or reliable way to judge a person’s professional competence.”

But Marc Whitworth, acting director of employment policy at the Association of Colleges, said it was just one of the many ways colleges use observation to assess the quality of the learning experience for students.

“There is much in this report we can support, but a view that characterises lesson observation as unhelpful is not supported by our evidence of what is happening in colleges,” he said.

“Providing formative feedback…throughout the year, and not just on one occasion, is an important part of assessment."

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