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Ofsted to drop grades for teachers' individual lessons in new trial

Teachers will not be graded individually for the quality of their teaching under a new pilot, announced today by Ofsted.

Rather than giving every teacher a grade on each individual lesson observation form, inspectors will instead give detailed feedback about “what is going well, and what is going less well”.

The approach, outlined by the watchdog’s national director for schools Mike Cladingbowl, will be trialled from Monday in the Midlands region, but could eventually be rolled out across the country.

While all schools will still receive an overall grade for quality of teaching, Mr Cladingbowl said he hoped the move would reduce “ineffective and unnecessary lesson observation” taking place in schools.

The watchdog has come under increasing fire in recent years for alleged inconsistencies between inspection teams and bias towards particular styles of teaching, but Mr Cladingbowl said he hoped the latest announcement would bring an end to the criticism.

“Too often, teachers tell me that teaching is evaluated narrowly or they are told to plan lessons in a particular way, or even to adopt a specific way of teaching, because ‘that’s what Ofsted wants’. Well, it usually isn’t,” he said.

As a result, Mr Cladingbowl explained, Ofsted has decided “the time has come to try something different”. “While I am confident that most inspectors have got the message, I fear it is not yet established firmly enough in schools,” he said. “I suspect that many in the profession still think that teaching can be assessed well by observing, episodically, a few aspects of an individual’s work for only a short period of time.

“So in a pilot from 9 June 2014 onwards, across the Midlands region, inspectors will not enter a grade for teaching on each individual lesson observation form. Instead, they will record their observations about what is going well, and what is going less well, and use this to feed back to teachers (if teachers want this) or even groups of teachers. But inspectors will not feed back a specific teaching grade or use grades to arrive at an overall judgement." 

Ofsted’s policy of grading individual lessons has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks. In March, right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange recommended that they be scrapped. 

Sam Freedman, a former policy adviser to Michael Gove who is now head of research at Teach First, went a step further last month by calling for Ofsted to no longer judge overall quality of teaching. “When you look at the data, the teaching grade is the same as the attainment 97 per cent of the time,” he told TES.

“So for that 3 per cent where there is a difference, is it worth the upheaval it causes within schools, the misery it causes for individual teachers when they get their teaching graded as a 3 or 4? I don’t think so.”

Mr Cladingbowl said today that inspectors will summarise strengths and weaknesses of teaching they encounter "along with plentiful other evidence from the scrutiny of books, discussions with teachers and children, the school’s own view of teaching and so on".

"Taken together, this will provide a catalyst for discussion and allow inspectors to form a view about teaching overall," he said in a statement on the Ofsted website.

“I also want the range of comments made about teaching by inspectors and by those in schools to widen. Like others, I don’t favour individual lesson checklists that are aligned to specific behaviours. This does little to encourage good teachers or increase professional reflection on what is effective practice.”

More detailed feedback would be beneficial to all parties, Mr Cladingbowl added. “What about teachers’ subject knowledge, the children’s sense of routine, the ability to turn direction mid-sentence, a common sense approach to differentiation, the sense of humour, the infectiousness of the explanation? I see too little of this kind of comment about teaching. I hope we see more reporting of it during the pilot.”

The pilot was welcomed by Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said that the focus on grading individual lessons had been an “unhelpful distraction”.

“Gaining an overall impression of teaching and learning and using this as the basis for a professional dialogue with senior leaders is a much more intelligent form of accountability,” he added.

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