‘Winning the TES Award was like winning an Oscar’

Chichester College's assistant principal reflects on the pride and hard work involved in winning a TES FE Award for an innovative teaching and learning initiative

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Chichester College was elated to win the TES FE Award for the best teaching and learning initiative in 2015, for its "Licence to Observe" programme. To receive the award was the ultimate accolade and gave the college sector recognition for all of the innovative, brave and successful work that has gone on over the past few years to professionalise the lesson observation process. 

Licence to Observe was launched for all observers (including students) of teaching and learning in 2011, primarily to ensure the consistency of grading and to refocus observation as a valued development opportunity. Consisting of five, one-hour modules, the initiative immediately had a far-reaching impact, with a demonstrable evidence of improvement in the observation process, learner outcomes, student satisfaction and quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

A key driver was the module on feedback, which used a coaching model to instigate a professional dialogue to engage and develop the teacher. During 2013-14 this became a focus to raise staff aspiration, encouraging them to take risks and embrace innovation. Ultimately it supported the successful introduction of a non-graded lesson observation pilot.

In 2013-14, 75 observers completed the ILM level 3 coaching award. Five curriculum areas piloted non-graded lesson observations and an important cultural shift began to take place, whereby an increasing number of teachers started to take risks in their teaching and learning with the support of experienced and qualified observers. In 2014-15, three more curriculum areas joined the non-graded lesson observation pilot, and from September 2015 all observations of teaching and learning will be non-graded.

Innovation is self-perpetuating at Chichester College, and conversations about teaching and learning are common practice. The professional dialogue begins before the observation and teachers are able to get feedback on something new they want to try without fear of failure. Many teachers request observations instead of waiting to be told that they are going to be observed, and will request observation in the lessons they are struggling with instead of "showcasing" their best practice. The teachers trust their observers.

Observers, meanwhile, have completed new, additional Licence to Observe modules to further hone their coaching and development skills.

The successful transition to a model of non-graded lesson observation would not have been possible without Licence to Observe. The skills and development of the observation team are central to its success in continually driving up standards in teaching, learning and assessment, and in helping teachers feel valued and supported.

Chichester College has delivered Licence to Observe nationally to the sector through the Learning Consortium, and has also presented it to schools and international colleges. The programme is accredited through awarding organisation NCFE. New developments at Chichester now include a Licence to Peer Observe, a Licence to Teach Higher Education, a Licence to Mentor and a Licence to Appraise.

Winning the TES FE award was like winning an Oscar, as it truly is the sector’s highest accolade; to join the very special list of past winners is a true honour. Our staff felt very special and proud to be recognised in this fashion. The glamorous award ceremony was a magnificent event, recognising the sector for its very special achievements. To have your college’s name called out as a winner is an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Sally Challis-Manning is assistant principal of Chichester College

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