Lesson observations could be used to force staff out, expert warns

Darren Evans

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A lesson observation expert has warned some FE colleges may step up the practice as a way of making savings in the face of funding cuts to the sector.

Matt O'Leary of the University of Wolverhampton told TES there was a risk that lesson observations could be misused to cut staff or courses.

Last month Ofsted confirmed that it was to stop graded lesson observations in inspections of FE providers.

But Dr O'Leary said: "There may very well be a risk in those institutions where there are restrictive practices or managerialised agendas that [lesson observation] may be misused.

"It could be seen as a convenient way of cutting resources, getting rid of people or cutting down support for particular courses."

But Dr O'Leary said the practice itself made little sense in terms of resources.

"If colleges are struggling for funding why not reappropriate those resources in a way they can have a more meaningful impact?" he said.

Last year Dr O'Leary surveyed more than 4,000 members of the University and College Union in the largest ever account of the practice in colleges.

His research found that a majority of lecturers did not believe graded observations were a valid or reliable way to judge their ability.

Many considered them a source of stress and said they were used as a disciplinary measure. Only about 10 per cent said they were the fairest way of assessing staff competence and performance.

Today, Dr O'Leary gave a keynote address at a conference on the subject at the University of Wolverhampton's Walsall campus.

He likened lesson observation 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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Darren Evans

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