Watch and learn: constant scrutiny would be good for staff, leaders told

25th June 2010 at 01:00
Scheme for middle managers says more lesson observation could tackle underperformance, but union warns teachers may feel undermined

Continual lesson observation should be used year as a way of dealing with underperformance among teachers, department and year heads have been advised.

The advice - a key recommendation in a new document from Teaching Leaders - calls for informal observation to take place "throughout the year".

The Teaching Leaders scheme is aimed at improving the quality of "middle leaders" in tough urban secondaries.

Unions have warned that the organisation's recommendation could lead to teachers being harassed.

But Sharath Jeevan, Teaching Leaders director, said the idea was to develop an open, supportive relationship between a head of department or year and their teachers.

"It is in the interests of the teacher to say: `Why don't you come into my classroom in an informal role?'" he said. "The head of department can help towards that by creating the right culture in the team where constructive feedback is welcome and there is an openness and no defensiveness."

Teaching union the NUT said it was concerned that the way the strategy has been presented - in a booklet summarising the thoughts of Teaching Leaders participants - suggests it will become part of performance management.

The booklet recommends that middle leaders "ensure that lesson observations are used throughout the school year and not just as a formal process of performance management".

But the advice comes under the heading "Managing Team Performance" and the subheading "Challenging UnderperformanceHaving Difficult Conversations".

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said it would be possible for a middle leader to conduct useful observations of a colleague's lessons but only if it was a mutually supportive exercise between equals and they were not acting in their role as a manager.

"It is about trust, and trust is undermined if this becomes a quasi appraisal," he said. "I don't think this should be directed at heads of department. The headteacher is responsible for performance management policy and has to consult all members of staff about it."

Regulations currently limit formal classroom observation to three hours per teacher per year, although the cap does not include casual, short "drop ins", and extra observations are permitted for struggling teachers or schools in special measures.

But Education Secretary Michael Gove said while in opposition that he would end the limit, describing it as "absurd" that heads were legally restricted from entering their schools' classrooms.

The Teaching Leaders document also recommends that middle leaders should be given an entitlement to a minimum number of hours' training, as in the case of newly qualified teachers and new heads.

It advises schools to "provide middle leaders with sufficient coaching and support to help with the emotional demands of the job".

Teaching Leaders, which will be working in 80 secondaries by September, found middle leaders often felt "emotionally drained" at work.

The collegial nature of teaching meant that moving to a position of authority over colleagues could be difficult. This was a particular risk in the urban secondaries the programme serves, where participants had taught for an average of just four and a half years.

Time management is another potentially difficult area for new middle leaders.

"They fall into the classic trap of taking on all the work themselves as this is what has worked in the past," the booklet says. "Consequently, they struggle to balance their teaching role with their new leadership and management responsibilities."


Main recommendations of the Teaching Leaders guidance

Middle leaders do not have to be everyone's friend but need to earn the respect of staff. They should set a clear vision and involve their team in shaping it.

Schools need to give middle leaders comprehensive induction, training and coaching, and hold them accountable.

Policymakers should ensure middle leaders are entitled to a minimum number of hours' training and provide them with a peer-to-peer support network.

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