The problem with “the problem with observations”

I don’t look forward to lesson observations. I don’t know anyone who does.

I didn’t look forward to my driving test either. But I don’t think they should be scrapped.

I’ve never had a truly disastrous lesson observation, but I’m more than aware that one day it might come. I did have a truly disastrous driving test. Because of a small incident with an amber traffic light in the first few minutes of the test, I went to pot. The result of my 35 minutes of torture was a piece of paper filled with slashes, crosses and a miserable talk-through of my many failings. It was loathsome. But it was also quite correct. The examiner’s role was to judge whether I was driving at the required standard, and it was clear from her observations that I was not.

A few weeks later I retook my test and passed confidently.

No long-term damage was caused by my first experience, although it perhaps reigned in my excessive confidence. I sometimes wonder if my driving might be better if I were forced to re-prove my competence every now and then. I frequently presume that other people’s would be.

It is fair to say that few people suggest that observations should be scrapped entirely, but there are many who rail against them generally, or who argue that the system needs to be wholly re-thought. I have to disagree.

There are undoubtedly problems with our systems if the anecdotes that are seen in posts such as Joe Kirby’s Who’s afraid of lesson observations? are representative of the whole system. But I don’t see that the problem is with the expectation that teachers be assessed. Rather it is with the ways in which observations are carried out, or are used by weak managers.

Teachers who complain about a “climate of fear”, or a reductive approach to judgements, or arbitrary decisions are really complaining about the way in which observation programmes are implemented in their school. That may be down to poor leadership, although in some cases it may also be down to strong leadership tackling weak teaching. We cannot know.

I would suggest that the pressure from Ofsted is often a cause of these problems. Heads who perceive a need to produce a spreadsheet of judgement scores (1-4 naturally) for Ofsted, will inevitably let this dictate their observation program. Here again, though, the problem lies not with the need for scrutiny, but in its implementation.

The Primary Head sets out clearly his rationale and processes for observing his teaching team in his blogpost which is well worth a read. Reading it should remind us that leaders have a duty and responsibility to ensure that teaching is of a suitable standard in our classrooms. We may not relish the process, but we must recognise its essential nature. And where there are flaws, let us tackle the flaws, not merely abandon the process.

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One thought on “The problem with “the problem with observations”

  1. […] We may not relish the process, but we must recognise its essential nature. Where there are flaws, let us tackle the flaws, not merely abandon the […]

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