Don't watch us too much

11th April 2008 at 01:00

Teachers want limits on new rules for lesson observation, but heads welcome chance to `drop in'

Calls for teachers in Wales to be legally protected from "excessive and stressful" lesson observation are growing.

Teaching union the NASUWT Cymru says members want a cap put on the hours staff can be placed "under a microscope" by heads, in line with England.

But some headteachers TES Cymru spoke to this week also said they would welcome new regulations allowing them to "drop in" on classes without notice.

At present, teachers in England cannot come under scrutiny for longer then three hours every year. But the regulations also say heads can observe lessons without notice - a practice not as widespread or usually acceptable in Wales.

The NUT teaching union condemns impromptu classroom observation. And in many schools, teachers know a week in advance when they will be observed.

Observation goals should be clear and focus on issues such as numeracy and literacy, as well as teachers' professional development. After the observation, teachers should get advice and feedback.

A senior member of staff evaluates the quality of teaching and pupils' learning. Qualified staff may also have double teaching sessions where they informally evaluate each others' work. In some schools, each term's observation also has a particular focus, such as emotional intelligence.

Estyn-style lesson grading is generally discouraged.

However, heads claim that giving notice of an intended lesson observation means it is "staged" and not a true indicator of a teacher's progress.

Frank Ciccotti, head of Pembroke School, said regular classroom observation was the best way to monitor teaching.

He also believes there should be flexibility under the new regulations so that heads of departments can also observe staff regularly without notice.

"I realise some teachers are reluctant to be monitored, and the general expectation is that people have a good week's warning," he said. "But that can turn it into a staged show rather than reveal what's really going on."

Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said classroom observation played a crucial role in schools, especially with the rise of self-evaluation.

The headteachers' union is in favour of abandoning "stressful" inspections by Estyn, where teachers come under almost constant observation for several days at a time, for self-evaluation of teachers' performance from within schools. Those that have poor self-evaluations will then face a full inspection.

"For a teacher, being observed all the time makes you feel as though you are under a microscope, but we believe self-evaluation is an important part of quality procedures," said Mr Jones.

Lesson observation is also likely to increase with the rise of the ethos of the new School Effectiveness Framework that comes into force next month. The aim of the strategy is to narrow the gap between vastly different performances of individual classrooms with similar pupil intake in Wales, as well as between schools.

The need to spread good pedagogy means current teaching practices in schools will be placed under the spotlight even more in a bid to raise Wales's flagging achievement rates.

Teaching unions said it was important to have consultation with teachers over performance management, which is devolved to Wales, sooner rather than later.

According to Rex Phillips, organiser of NASUWT Cymru, talks have been delayed with officials for the past six months. This is despite the Assembly government saying that revised regulations would be ready in time for the 200910 academic year.

The union says that new regulations are also vital to ensure parity with teachers' pay and conditions in the recently revised School Teachers' Pay and Conditions document.

Pay and conditions are not devolved to Wales, and the union claims confusion between the Welsh and English education systems could affect teachers' pay.

"What we don't want to see is schools in Wales using the English model," said Mr Phillips. "Until the Assembly puts in place new regulations, the current system of performance management should still apply here.

"We don't want to see teachers worse off than in England."

But the issue of performance-related pay is still a thorny issue in Wales. Mr Jones, of ASCL Cymru, said the positive link between performance and pay in England was not reflected in Wales, making decisions on pay progression far from clear.

But Mr Ciccotti believes it would be difficult to link pay fairly to lesson observation.

"It is almost impossible to judge performance on an equitable basis on lesson observation - there are many differences in lessons; for example, not everybody teaches the same students," he said.

An Assembly government spokeswoman said there were no immediate plans to consult on performance management regulations

"The Assembly government has devolved responsibility for the performance management arrangements of teachers in Wales," she said. The regulations in England, which include the introduction of a maximum number of classroom observations, have no bearing in Wales."

Leader, page 28.

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