'Lesson observations – what a farce'

One teacher shares three stories of lesson observations – all of which demonstrate their unreliability and bias


Three telling stories about lesson observations

I have three stories I wish to share.

Story one

The first involves a former colleague of mine and her Ofsted observation. I had worked with her as a learning support worker on the graveyard shift: a Friday afternoon. She was teaching a group of A-level students who were re-sitting their science GCSEs.

She was an amazing teacher, every lesson was a surprise and the students hung on every word, she said. She was observed by Ofsted, and the observer downgraded her as there was a pillar standing out from the side of the wall in her classroom and she had apparently “failed to use the classroom space effectively”. She then resigned and left the teaching profession, probably permanently.

Story two

A cohort of my former colleagues were being trained on how to do lesson observations. Nine teachers were asked to watch a recorded lesson and rate it from outstanding to special measures, as per standard operating procedure. Within this exercise there were teachers who rated the lesson as outstanding and there were those who rated it as being in special measures. The exact same lesson.

Story three

I was teaching a new group of students and had planned diligently for a great lesson, with great levels of differentiation in various ways, engaging activities and utilising my own enthusiasm for the subject. I was observed in this lesson. I thought it had gone very well, all learners were engaged, minus two who had a moment's lapse in concentration. When this happened, I quickly reset them to their work.

At the end of the lesson, I provided all students with a "learner voice" feedback questionnaire. This rated the lesson based on engagement levels, how much they were challenged and how much they felt they had progressed.

A simple calculation on Excel would rate the lesson from outstanding to special measures, as dictated by the learners themselves – very powerful evidence for the efficacy of a lesson.

After the lesson I went to receive my feedback, to which the observer stated (with no lack of malevolence) that “I think you lost them completely after five minutes”. I subsequently pulled out my learner voice feedback questionnaires and showed said observer that my lesson was in fact outstanding, as based upon the opinions of 18 young adults undertaking the lesson and one support staff.


Clearly, using lesson observations as a tool to appraise a teacher’s ability is as unreliable and biased as the education system they are utilised within.

Do I need to say more?

The writer is a supply teacher in the Southwest of England 

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