Welsh view 'surveillance culture' with suspicion

24th August 2012 at 01:00
Union fears lesson observations are being used as a 'punitive' tool

A boom in classroom observations is creating a surveillance culture in Welsh schools that is being used to penalise teachers, a union has warned.

In a poll by the NASUWT teaching union of more than 1,000 members, one in three teachers said they are being observed more frequently than ever before, sparking concern that monitoring is being used as a "punitive" tool, rather than to improve standards.

Almost half of the surveyed teachers said observations are not used evenly across their schools, with some claiming that colleagues are targeted over issues such as their sickness record.

The findings come as the NASUWT's relationship with the Welsh government is at a low point. The union has been involved in a dispute with ministers since last October over a range of issues, including workload and pay and conditions.

It has also vowed to take action against a new performance management system due to be introduced this term, which it claims could lead to more work for teachers. The findings of the poll on classroom observation are fuelling yet more discontent.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the survey showed that classroom observation was being used as a "punitive management tool" to pressurise and intimidate teachers.

"Unfortunately, too many teachers are subject to surveillance and monitoring that is designed to be negative, rather than to support enhanced teaching and learning," she said. "The survey reveals an unacceptable level of poor management practice, with teachers not receiving professional feedback. Lesson observation without feedback is pointless."

The concerns in Wales come just weeks before new regulations are introduced in England that will end the current limit of three hours a year on formal observations.

More than half of teachers responding to the NASUWT survey said they did not always receive feedback after observations, while two-thirds found them unhelpful and more than a fifth said they were "intimidating". Five per cent said they had been observed more than six times in the past year.

Rex Phillips, Wales organiser for the NASUWT, said the survey showed that the union was right to ballot its members to gain support for a limit to classroom observation.

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said classroom observation was an "absolutely essential" activity.

"School leaders have a responsibility to monitor quality of teaching, but it is about helping to improve standards of teaching and learning," he said. "It is not about bullying or surveillance."

The NASUWT's dispute with the Welsh government has led to it introducing a work-to-rule policy, similar to that being used by the union in England over a different set of grievances.

However, the union has spent much of its time arguing with the Welsh government over the legality of the work-to-rule policy. Representatives were due to meet education minister Leighton Andrews this week to discuss the matter.

Earlier this year, the Welsh government was accused of inflaming the dispute with the NASUWT by writing to teachers to "clarify" the use of classroom observation. In April, Chris Tweedale, director of schools and young people in Wales's Department for Education and Skills, wrote: "It is for headteachers to decide on the purpose, nature and frequency of classroom observation.

"However, contrary to some people's misunderstanding, there are no set limits on the amount of observation that may be carried out either as part of performance management arrangements or for other purposes."

Responding to the survey this week, a government spokesman said: "Where used effectively and responsibly, observation provides valuable opportunities to share what works well in the classroom."


Number of times NASUWT members said they had been observed in the past year:

Once - 21%

Twice - 30%

Three times - 27%

Four to six times - 17%

More than six times - 5%

Source: NASUWT Wales observation survey.

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