A fair appraisal system supports staff development needs as well as improving pupil outcomes. Observations are part of the appraisal process and, when carried out as part of a process of constructive engagement within an atmosphere of support and co-operation, can be beneficial.
However, excessive numbers of observations can be counter-productive and do not necessarily lead to better outcomes for pupils. There are other ways of supporting staff development, for example through a school’s CPD programme.
There is no statutory limit on the number of teacher observations but NEU policy is for a maximum of three per year for all purposes, not exceeding three hours in total. An annual limit of three hours’ lesson observation was previously included in the Education (School Teacher Performance Management) (England) Regulations 2006; however this legislation was repealed by the Coalition Government in 2012.
Ofsted has highlighted a number of ‘myths’ about its inspections, including those relating to appraisal and classroom observations, which can create unnecessary workload and are not required by Ofsted.
Another Ofsted myth is related to the grading of observed lessons. Ofsted makes it clear that during inspections it “does not award a grade for the quality of teaching or outcomes in the individual lessons visited. Neither does it expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching or individual lessons” (e.g. as part of the appraisal process).
Research evidence shows that classroom observation judgements may not always be reliable, particularly where observers have not been trained. It is difficult for an observer not to project their own preferences for particular styles of teaching onto a situation, even where other styles might be equally or more effective. This is not to say that observation should not take place; rather that it is important that observers have received training and are receptive to different styles other than their own.
Assessment of classroom teaching that results in meaningful and actionable feedback for teachers has its roots in a clear, well-designed observation framework. Any lack of consistency simply erodes trust in the whole enterprise of teacher evaluation. A number of research studies have looked at the reliability of classroom observation ratings. For example, the recent Measures of Effective Teaching Project, funded by the Gates Foundation in the US, was designed to help teachers and school systems close the gap between their expectations for effective teaching and what is actually happening in classrooms.
Detailed ‘audits’ against each of the Teachers’ Standards and sub-bullet points is not required as part of the observation or wider appraisal process. Teachers do not have to ‘demonstrate’ that they meet the Teachers’ Standards. Even the Department for Education agrees with this. No such requirement is imposed by the Education (School Teacher Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012. Moreover, Ofsted confirms that whilst it “will usually expect to see evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and its link to teachers’ performance management and the Teachers’ Standards…this should be the information that the school uses routinely and not additional evidence generated for inspection”.
Similarly, there is no requirement to adopt a matrix approach ascribing certain levels of teaching performance to particular points on the pay scale. Some employers and private companies/consultants have sought to promote such an approach but it has no basis in statute. For example, there is no requirement that a teacher paid at the top of the Upper Pay Range has to teach lessons that are all at least ‘good’ with 50 per cent ‘outstanding’.
Teachers are often placed under pressure to produce intricately detailed lesson plans which are scrutinised in particular detail as part of the lesson observation process. It’s worth knowing that Ofsted does not require schools to provide lesson plans to inspectors, nor does it require schools to provide previous lesson plans. Inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of the planning rather than the form it takes.
Another major concern for teachers in relation to the appraisal process is the frequent demands to examine pupils’ books, whether scrutinised as part of a lesson observation or carried out separately. Ofsted states clearly that it does not expect to see “any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback” nor “any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.”