No way to judge effect of class sizes

24th November 1995 at 00:00
I am the headteacher of a 540-pupil primary school. Last summer I went on the additional inspector training course with the Office for Standards in Education.

Chief inspector Chris Woodhead's latest pronouncements relating to class sizes concern me greatly, particularly because they reveal that he has very little understanding of the lesson observation criteria that OFSTED use, but also because what he claims suits his political paymasters so much that I suspect strong bias in the statements he has made and this casts serious doubts on his political independence.

Mr Woodhead claims that observations of 200,000 lessons in 1,767 schools are the valid basis for his judgments.

I suggest that even if he had 10 times that amount of "evidence" he still could not claim he had significant evidence about class size.

The quality-of-learning section of OFSTED's Framework lesson observation form has very little to do with what the children are learning in the lesson.

The criteria consist of the following three broad areas each containing more specific details: pupil progress, pupil competence, pupil attitude.

It is on these three areas alone that judgments about the quality of learning are made. Two of these three areas relate almost totally to what has gone on before the lesson observed, in effect to the totality of each child's learning experiences. These have very little to do with what is being learned in the lesson observed.

The amount of progress that a pupil makes in any one lesson is extremely hard to determine. In order to judge if progress has been made, one would either need prior knowledge of a child's skillknowledge level relating to the topic being taught or spend some time looking at a child's work andor discussing it with the child.

Even then one would need post-lesson evidence to determine if the "progress" was maintained.

All teachers know that the learning competence of children coming to their classes depends on previously learned skills. Without those skills it is very difficult for a teacher to succeed with hisher pupils. If children are seen to be very "competent" in any lesson it is more to do with what has gone on before that lesson and we would need evidence of class sizes of all the previous classes to establish any valid correlation on these grounds.

Attitude to learning may have a little more to do with current teaching and perhaps even the actual lesson observed but even here the class teacher is very dependent on the quality of teaching that has gone on before.

If Mr Woodhead is really interested in making judgments on class size then he should demand research on the issue and not misuse the Framework, I suspect, simply for the purpose of pleasing his masters.

I would also like to point out that 200,000 lessons have not been observed by OFSTED inspectors. It was made very clear to me on the additional inspector course that there would only be time to observe parts of lessons (often only about a third of each lesson) because it was expected that in the short time available for a school inspection, a significant number of lessons had to have been observed in a misguided attempt to bring validity to the whole exercise.

I could go on to argue that this approach to lesson observation is highly suspect especially when any claims about pupil progress in any lesson are made.



Godmanchester community primary school

Park Lane Godmanchester


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