Monitoring teaching through classroom observation
Headteachers have got used to the idea that they are responsible and
accountable for the quality of teaching and learning in their school. Inspection
is expected to validate the school’s judgement and the offer for a senior
leader to take part in a joint observation with a member of the inspection team
should not be passed by. The joint observation helps to establish trust
between the school and team and helps each to get a handle on the
professional judgement of the other. The school’s records of their monitoring
of teaching and learning make an important contribution to the inspection.
However, monitoring teaching is not for inspection alone but for the school’s
ongoing self-evaluation. In this issue and the next I want to look at the
function and purpose of classroom observation and of the documentation that
There are six main reasons for carrying out lesson observation: -
Teaching is a key performance indicator in the inspection schedule and
in the school’s self-evaluation.
Through observation we can identify areas of success and plan to
share the good practice.
We can also identify whole-school or individual areas for improvement.
Observation opens up a professional dialogue centred on pedagogy.
It is also a tool that can be used as part of a strategy of coaching for
Observation informs performance management.
It is important that headteachers establish an agreed observation protocol.
This can be a bit of a minefield where custom and practice have established a
limiting way of working. For example, several schools take the view that
teachers should be observed no more than three times in the year. To clarify;
this relates to performance management – the headteacher or designated
deputy have every right to enter any classroom and observe teaching.
Conversely of course, a teacher may have a reasonable claim of being over-
observed, especially when there may be quality questions. As the
headteacher of both a highly successful school and one where raising the
quality of teaching was key to getting out of special measures, I always made
sure that there was room for both but a clarity of purpose for each – is this
observation related to the school’s overall quality of teaching or is it part of a
separate performance management programme? Performance management
will be dealt with in a later issue so I will focus only on the former here. The
protocol will establish what happens in an observation and how it will
Having an agreed protocol is important – that way everyone knows where
they are. Effective classroom observation needs to be;
Scheduling is really essential as it prevents random no-notice observations
that can be received with hostility and, in some circumstances, expose the
headteacher to charges of harassment. It is helpful, but not essential, to know
the lesson to be observed and it is a matter of courtesy to know when
observations will take place. Personally, I would argue that, while it is
essential to make a specific lesson focus for performance management
purposes, it is often better for monitoring visits to be in a scheduled week or
on a known day. There are benefits both ways but any strategic approach
must be systematic and systems usually need schedules.
It is of high importance for all partners in a lesson observation to know that
this is a professional and not a personal matter. This is a two-way process; it’s
not something that is being ‘done to’ the teacher; the whole observation
regime is part of an ongoing professional conversation, it is personality free –
and it should be expected!
If this is a professional conversation then it needs to involve some sort of
opportunity for feedback – and remember; this is a two-way conversation.
Feedback should be based on what has actually been observed. It is no good
referring to what a head of year may have reported or what the observer may
think unless it has been a part of the observation and can be substantiated.
Feedback should be given orally as soon after the observation as possible.
This initial feedback is brief; key points only, with an opportunity to follow up
the detail. The reason it is carried out swiftly is that those initial impressions
will fade, as will the teacher’s own self-evaluation. This is the time to clarify
any misconceptions that the observer may have acquired as well as giving the
teacher the heads-up on the positives and areas for improvement. Written
feedback should follow as soon as is reasonably practical and certainly within
the next three days. It is disrespectful for a leader to sit on written feedback
for ages and perhaps to forget it completely.
Written feedback is a record of what has been seen rather than suspected. It
is very helpful to think about the teacher’s actions in terms of outcomes for
pupils, for example, ‘pupils showed very positive attitudes to the problem
because of your relaxed yet dynamic style and the good relationships you
have established with the class’. There are many models of written feedback,
from the detailed Ofsted-style evidence form to a criterion-based tick sheet.
It’s often shaped by available time. However, if there is going to be follow-up
then it is vital that the points to be addressed are clearly recorded. The written
feedback must be shared with the teacher and may include their response to
points raised. If follow-up is going to involve others (eg head of year, maths
leader) then the feedback should be shared with them too. Because this is a
professional, not a personal process, this should not be contentious. The
feedback must be retained and forms part of the school’s evidence base.
Finally, it is really a senior management decision about what is followed up
from any observation. They will want to share success and good practice just
as they may wish to address improvement issues. Record the follow-up as
this will inform later observations, demonstrate good strategic practice and
provide an importance evidence trail. The next article will consider the
recording systems that support classroom observation.