Bogus judgements: a case study

The following quotes in bold are from a recent lesson observation; these quotes are followed by my thoughts on each one. The intention is to show how a system of quick judgements can be both inaccurate and destructive. ‘Performance-related pay’ is being pushed through at the moment as the obvious solution to poor teaching. The following few points illustrate how easy it is to make inaccurate judgements. There is also a sense that the final grade is more important than the development of the teacher’s practice. This has disturbing implications for a new era of ‘performance related pay’.

  • ‘The lesson was pitched too low for the class’ – During verbal feedback a critical point was made regarding a single pupil who was considered not to have been adequately challenged. The lesson was about how to spell words by thinking about the sounds, a typical lesson in Year 1. The child in question was able to write sentences and had not been made to do so. His sentence-writing at this time was limited to words being squashed together with many capital letters in the wrong places. As this was the sixth 45 minute Literacy lesson of the year (and of his life) formal sentence-writing skills had not yet been addressed. It would be unhelpful to both pupil and teacher to see his same mistakes being repeated. The group-work session was, as always, differentiated into three separate exercises for three ability-groups within the class. Bearing this in mind, and considering the case of this single pupil, it is impossible to explain how the entire lesson can be regarded as having been ‘pitched too low’.
  • ‘…however you did stop during the lesson and checked pupils understanding before redirecting them.’ (sic) – Poor grammar and punctuation aside it is still unclear how this helped to mitigate the lesson being ‘pitched too low for the class.’
  • ‘Lesson not resourced and ready to go’ – The Teaching Assistant (TA) had received the resources for this lesson from the TA of the other Year 1 class next door. This was because the same lesson had just been taught next door (NB all staff have been encouraged not to waste resources in the school by unnecessary duplication). This handover was at the start of the lesson as the observers entered the classroom. Those observing knew why the lesson was not already resourced as they walked through the door. That this detail has been noted as a failing is the clearest indication of all that this observation was not carried out in a helpful and supportive way.
  • ‘Least able children were supported by the TA in the group-work session. Ensure that these children rotate daily so that they are getting teacher input and independent time’ – Quite simply: they do rotate daily. A quick glance at the planning shows this.
  • ‘The teaching was found to be satisfactory as the lesson was pitched too low for the pupils’  – This is a very revealing statement indeed. Here we can see that the word ‘satisfactory’ has actually been reinterpreted to mean ‘less than satisfactory’. For this sentence to actually make sense the word ‘as’ should be replaced with ‘but’ (i.e. the teaching was found to be satisfactory but the lesson was pitched too low for the pupils). Ofsted began the process of degrading the word ‘satisfactory’ and now this is carried on by management teams within schools who have internalised those values. Ofsted has now abandoned its attempt to bring a new meaning to the word ‘satisfactory’ and has replaced it with ‘in need of improvement’.
  • Not a single descriptor within the ‘Good’ category is highlighted: this tells me there was nothing good about the lesson! Quite apart from the fact that this is demoralising as a judgement it is also inaccurate when the category-descriptors are examined. Without any sense of poor judgement or exaggeration the following descriptors could easily have been highlighted: ‘There is no evidence of disruptive behaviour’ (Outstanding) or ‘Pupils are motivated and engaged’ (Good) However these descriptors were not highlighted.In fact all highlighted descriptors fell within one category: ‘Satisfactory’. This in itself is suspicious. It is as if the need for a clear ‘grade’ was more important in this exercise than helping teachers to improve their practice. Many equivalent ‘good’ and ‘satisfactory’ descriptors are practically the same anyway (i.e. little more than arbitrary judgements).

Internal observations should be conducted in a professional and supportive way. They are not meant to be an Ofsted inspection but a check that standards are being upheld. More importantly it is a time for the more experienced teacher to help the observed teacher. A punitive and unreasonable observation results in an unmotivated teacher. It puts an individual on the back foot trying not to do the wrong thing rather than pushing to do what is best for the class.

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