Ofsted certainly hasn’t provided a definitive answer, although they expect school leaders to identify one when they see it.
Is this fair?
School leaders are now expected to have an intimate knowledge of the quality of teaching and learning in the school. Most schools have become quite proficient at it. Most can confidently say what is outstanding and identify those that are failing. Teaching and teachers are being scrutinised as never before and this is a good thing Isn’t it? if we want to continue to improve education don’t we need to be critical!
I’m not against lesson observation – far from it. But before getting carried away with the idea that this must be a good thing, it’s worth reflecting a little.
- Observations send teachers into a panic, Should this happen?
- Observations equal pressure and heart ache. Is this the real meaning. The purpose is to improve teaching, shouldn’t observation be done in a more coaching manner.
- Observation = OFSTED
- Observation = loss of sleep and added pressure
Teachers know how good they are deep down, should we worry?
Are we weighing the right things?
Some schools are. The skill in observing lessons is, under normal circumstances, to focus on learning. To ask the students, and oneself, what progress students are making using their work, the teacher’s assessments, and the learning in the lesson as guides.
Much of this is art, not science. Good teachers, in any case, provide the answers for the observer. Their questioning and their marking give them, you and, most importantly, the students, constant feedback on progress. Focusing on student progress makes it much easier to evaluate what the teacher has done, and is doing, to achieve the progress which you see.
Others do not! They concentrate on the more obvious features of teaching, like lesson objectives, three part lessons, behaviour management and so on. These things are, of course, important but only as far as they lead to effective learning. And you can have effective learning without any of them.
There is, I think, one small exception to the focus on learning. It applies to schools which are in trouble, where the overall quality of lessons is consistency poor.
In such schools, it is probably better when observing to concentrate on two or three key elements of teaching which will secure greater consistency of experience for students. These could be the factors mentioned above, but may include others; it will depend on the school’s situation.
Schools are, rightly, beginning to establish routines about who will be observed, when and by whom.
This is good, especially if those routines reflect effectively distributed leadership. It requires those who observe to understand how to do it, and also how to provide constructive feedback about what they have seen.
Furthermore, observation is vital for ones personal development but also for career development. If you want to become a DHT or Head then you need to have practised being on both sides of the observation.
However, not many schools seem to have reached the point of asking themselves if they need to observe all teachers equally, and what they should do with their observations.
In schools where teachers have a proven track record I am sure their outstanding teaching could be utilised in another more useful way.
The best SEFs use the observation records to provide an analysis of the main strengths and weaknesses of teaching and to say how the weaknesses are being addressed.
Good practice is to link this evaluation closely with the school improvement plan and performance management. many schools are now doing this and i know this works for many. (My school is an example of this)
In the longer term, observation can then be differentiated, with fewer observations of the best teachers. This allows more time and support to be given to help the weaker teachers improve, and the better teachers can provide the vehicle for sharing professional good practice.
Are weightings consistent?
OFSTED has provided some good guidance about how to judge lessons and teaching. They define good and inadequate in some detail, but the definition of satisfactory and outstanding lesson are less well defined.
(NOTE: In the January 2012 new framework there is more guidance given).
Most schools now have systems for improving the weakest teaching. Many are developing coaching and peer observation to improve what is currently satisfactory to good. These are important areas, but I am also interested in improvement at the upper end of the scale by providing a better definition of what constitutes ‘outstanding’.
How can good teachers become outstanding?
A starting point is to adapt the Ofsted definition of a good lesson.
In summary, this defines a good lesson as one in which:
- All students make satisfactory progress; most make good progress.
- Most know what they are doing and why.
- Students behave well – little time is lost to behavioural issues.
- The classroom is a friendly and safe place – relationships are good.
- The teacher knows his/her subject and strategies for teaching it well; the teaching methods used are appropriate for the content.
- The teaching is well-matched to the learners’ needs; most are stretched by the teaching.
- The teacher encourages and praises frequently.
- Available resources (time, staff etc) are well used.
- Assessment is regular and supports progress – most pupils know what they need to do to improve.
This is personal, so you may well disagree with some of my criteria and wish to add others, but it’s a starting point
An outstanding lesson is one in which all, or nearly all, of the features of a good lesson are present, plus some of the following:
A. All students are challenged and make outstanding progress, especially those at the ends of the ability range and those who lack confidence; some make exceptional progress; a lot of ground is covered in the lesson but stragglers are not left by the wayside.
B. Enthusiasm and enjoyment pervade the classroom.
C. The teaching is exciting and interesting (for example, through use of stimulating resources or other adults in the lesson); it may be inspired, although it doesn’t have to be.
D. All the students are involved in the lesson and all contribute in some form. children show visual enjoyment most of the time
E. Teaching methods are very well matched to the content and to the learners – some may be original or innovative; for example, content closely linked to students’ experiences or to interesting practical situations.
F. The teacher checks progress throughout the lesson; assessment is regular and helpful. (assessment using a method that gives a realistic view of the class, not thumbs up or down as this doesn’t always give a reflection of the children’s understanding. Assessment via a few key questions linked to learning/understanding)
G. Students evaluate their own and others’ progress accurately and constructively.
H. All students know how to improve as a result of regular and constructive feedback; where appropriate this is linked to national criteria or examination requirements.
J. The teacher develops students’ basic and other cross-curricular skills, for example, literacy, numeracy, independent learning and PSHE.
K. Students have easy access to, and make use of, additional resources which they use independently to support or enhance their learning.
L. Students go out of their way to help each other; they provide mutual support.
M. The classroom is a lively and interesting place; it includes good displays of students’ work (representing all abilities), things which give a subject specific flavour to the room, and annotated examples of levelled work used to support learning.
Outstanding lessons don’t need to be perfect but to me there needs to be a special spark that you do not always get in “Satisfactory” or “Good” classrooms!
This is what i think. What is your opinion?