Are you being observed?

15th June 2007 at 01:00

As Ofsted backs off, many lecturers bear the brunt of repeated inspections by `intimidatory' line managers

LECTURERS SAY they are experiencing an increasing number of "intimidatory"

observations by their own colleagues as Ofsted retreats from class inspections.

The use of line managers to observe lessons in further education colleges has been called into question as the largest lecturers' union calls for a code of practice over how such work is carried out.

"It's an increasing problem, there's no question about that," said Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at the University and College Union.

"Staff say observations are intimidatory and not supportive. People are definitely saying it's more stressful than Ofsted coming in every four years."

Ofsted defended internal observation, but insisted: "It was not our intention that this should become more onerous."

A spokesman said: "We want colleges to have accurate and robust self-assessment reports and, as part of this, they do need to have means of monitoring the quality of teaching. But we do not prescribe how this should be done."

Ofsted said it had no evidence of internal observations becoming more harsh.

The UCU will hold talks with the Association of Colleges, which represents employers, about the possibility of a code.

Principals have made more use of internal inspections in reaction to Ofsted's "light-touch" regime, which should mean fewer lessons being inspected by the organisation.

Lecturers are regularly being observed and graded by line managers at least once a year.

At some colleges, lecturers are being threatened with re-observation and disciplinary action if they continue to be rated satisfactory or worse.

In line with the expectations of Ofsted and the Learning and Skills Council, which has the power to intervene in institutions that are "coasting" as well as those that are failing, many colleges require their teaching staff to achieve good or very good ratings.

One lecturer said: "In the current climate, with the workloads we've got, a satisfactory grade is miraculous.

"I work in teacher education, so I know the benefit of good, developmental observation. It can be very helpful. But here it's done by line managers with one or two days' training at best, so how can they do it properly?"

At other colleges, lecturers faced being observed by their managers without notice.

But colleges said many of the changes derive from government recommendations, which suggested that colleges should increasingly regulate their own quality standards.

Some colleges were also threatening to refuse pay progression, which in the past has been automatic as staff gained experience, if lecturers were not rated better than satisfactory.

Susan O'Halloran, quality manager at the AoC, said: "It's about having an internal quality assurance system of your own, not relying on internal inspection. There have been enormous improvements in college results, and they are down to internal observation.

"It's not a universal problem. There's more chance of improvement if it is internal rather than having a huge inspection every four years with 40 inspectors crawling all over you."

Drop-ins commended

The University and College Union claims the lessons of one lecturer at Chichester College were observed 14 times in six months.

The college declined to comment on the case, but principal Dr Richard Parker said the college's "drop-in" observations had been commended by Ofsted, and insisted he was merely setting high standards.

He added: "If you talk to staff and say, `would you really want your children to be taught in a way that was simply satisfactory or one that is good or better', they would want it to be good or better every time."

Repeat views called off

At Park Lane College in Leeds, Tony Longworth, the principal, has softened his position after staff raised concerns that lecturers who were rated satisfactory would face unlimited repeat observations. Mr Longworth has now decided against this course of action.

Staff claimed they had been criticised for such things are having too much light coming in through the window, and a student yawning.

But Mr Longworth said individual incidents could be taken out of context, adding: "It's quite interesting. People who get good grades tend to think it's a fantastic process."

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