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Ofsted: don't use lesson observations to label teachers

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Performance management systems should not be focused too narrowly on lesson observations, according to Ofsted’s lead official for further education.

Paul Joyce, the watchdog’s deputy director for FE and skills, said that a “20-minute snapshot” of a lesson should not be used in isolation to evaluate a teacher’s performance.

In May, the watchdog announced that it would no longer be grading lesson observations in its FE inspections. But the following month Ofsted said it was not insisting that all providers ditch the practice for internal use.

During a debate about lesson observation at the UKFEchat National Conference last Saturday, Matt O’Leary, a reader in education at Birmingham City University, warned that grades resulting from observations of teachers' lessons often became “attached to that individual…so it becomes like a label”.

“Anybody that has worked in the sector knows there are repercussions to being awarded a particular grade,” he told delegates at the Hallam Conference Centre in London.

But Mr Joyce said it would not be appropriate for Ofsted to instruct providers to stop grading observations.

“It’s not our role to recommend,” he said. “We don’t insist that providers do anything in a certain way; that is up to these individual, autonomous FE institutions to decide.

“Some institutions may well for their own reasons find it beneficial to grade, and I wouldn’t like to suggest why that may be. That is for that individual management team to decide, not for us to dictate or impose.”

Mr Joyce said performance management systems should be based on a “sophisticated” range of evidence, including student experience surveys, success rates and value-added data.

He told the conference: “We do not expect managers to grade and label individual teachers as part of a performance management arrangement simply on the basis of one lesson observation. I’ll say it again: we would not recognise that as being a good performance management system.”

Mr Joyce also said Ofsted did not want to see “off the shelf” lessons designed to impress inspectors.

But Dr O’Leary, who has carried out extensive research into observations for the University and College Union, said the severe consequences of a poor Ofsted report meant that such practice was unavoidable. “Unless you shift those goalposts… then I think inevitably you’re going to get people still rolling out that showcase lesson,” he added.

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