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Why I put a stop to maths lesson observations in my school

Maths observations are an unnecessary part of school life, argues one Year 6 teacher

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Maths observations are an unnecessary part of school life, argues one Year 6 teacher

In the previous academic year, maths observations accounted for 50 per cent of the observations completed by most staff in our school.

As maths co-ordinator, this is a positive for me, because it gets me into others’ classrooms, allows me to steal ideas and get involved in the maths teaching of other children in the school. I am a firm believer that any regular observer in school should get involved in all parts of the lesson, not sit back making notes.

However, after the first two or three – all given "good" or "outstanding – I got to thinking: what is the point of these, apart from the positives mentioned above? Am I actually benefitting the teachers or the students by doing these observations? 

A waste of time

For a few reasons, I decided observations were detrimental to both teachers and students. 

First, there is a huge amount of stress induced – the amount of time spent on planning, re-planning, creating resources, panicking and losing sleep is ridiculous.

Second, Ofsted. Are current Ofsted inspections focussing on the grading and pulling apart of whole lessons or more interested in book scrutiny, child-teacher interviews and the data? If these are more important to our inspection body, surely our priorities in school should be to judge teaching and learning?

A further point: how realistic in terms of everyday teaching are these observations? Are they realistic in terms of planning time? Are they realistic in terms of time spent making resources? Are they realistic, therefore, in terms of children’s learning on a daily basis? The first two questions I am sure most would agree, definitely not, but the third?

Other evidence

The question will get asked as to how you can judge teaching and learning if you don’t observe. My answer to that would be easy: books and teacher discussion.

As an SLT member, as well as maths co-ordinator, I am confident in predicting the outcome of an observation for 90 per cent of the teachers I watch before I have even entered the room.

Why? Because I have seen their books, spoken to their children and gained confidence in their abilities. And I have conducted the dreaded data analysis.

For more than a year, our school has used tick sheets for each key objective in each year group, which are ticked off for each child when the objective has been taught and met.

This may sound time-consuming – I am the first to complain about any extra workload – but I can assure you it isn’t. Tick sheets are completed when marking a day’s maths lesson and with quality first teaching, the majority of children will achieve the objective, so the time spent doing these is not an issue.

This triangulation of evidence gives me a clearer picture of the teaching and learning taking place on a daily basis and the quality of that teaching, rather than a one-off, over-rehearsed "performance".

Kevin O’Brien is assistant head and Year 6 teacher at a primary school in Merseyside.

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