Can (free) schools avoid nonsense? (part 2 teaching and learning)

How does a school show the quality of their teaching and learning without engaging in pointless nonsense?

This ought to be pretty straightforward. In fact I would argue that it is, if the results match the rating for teaching and learning that a school rates itself. Sadly, for reasons I don’t understand a lot of nonsense is often introduced to the process.

Questions to answer for OFSTED with respect to teaching and learning:

  1. What is the standard of teaching and learning?
  2. What is that judgement based on?
  3. How secure are you in that judgement?
  4. What do you do when a teacher is underperforming?
  5. What are you doing to improve standards of teaching and learning?
  6. What is the impact of 4 and 5?

What is the standard of teaching and learning?

I would argue that the biggest indication of the quality of teaching and learning is unquestionably pupil progress. Thus a school should not attempt to argue that their teaching and learning is any better than their pupil progress.

It is also here that whole school policies are most important. Schools should be able to show that there are coherent policies for planning, marking, feedback and the various other aspects of good teaching and learning that the school judges to be important. These policies should all fit in with the  schools ethos.

If the policies demand good practice and the school can show that the policies are followed then it makes it far easier to argue that teaching and learning is good enough.

What is the judgement based on?

This is one of the most common places where nonsense creeps in. I believe there are 4 strands to judging the quality of teaching and learning.

1) Observations

A common source of nonsense. Observations are supposed to fulfill multiple purposes. However generally in my experience most people who genuinely believe formal observations improve anybodies practice lives in fantasy land.

I believe that the different purposes for observations should have distinct and different observations rather than trying to fulfill more than one purpose in the same observation and actually fulfilling none of them.

1) Judging how good a teacher is at teaching- Very few teachers do what they would normally do when they are being observed if the purpose of the observation is to judge their competence formally. What you are judging is their observation performance. This is nonsense. The only point of this is for OFSTED. You can tell teachers to do what they normally do. If the observation is formal they won’t. This is particularly true if it relates in any way to performance management.

In order to use observations to judge how good someone is a teaching observations have to be unrated and the overall judgement should not be used as part of a performance management process.

I would do two observations a year. Once after the audit of strengths and training needs is done to see where someone is with their area of training need and once towards the end of the year. Improving that (those) area(s) of practice could relate to performance management

2) Sharing good practice- This must be informal, must be voluntary and should be done as often as manageable in my opinion. Observing people that are good at things I don’t or can’t do has been a very powerful driver for improving my teaching. I would at the start or each year do two whole school audits. The first would be asking for aspects of teaching practice that people would be happy to demonstrate the second for aspects of teaching practice that people would like to improve. I would observe the practice of those volunteering to be observed to make sure we are on the same page with respect to whatever it is. I would then organise a timetable of informal peer observations. I would want a limited sort of feedback (observer and observed agree on one www, ebi and what the observer might use in their own lesson for the school records). I would at a later point in the year when the observer is next observed specifically comment on the area of practice they were hoping to improve.

3) Identifying areas for improvement- again I would argue this should be informal for the simple reason that judging how someones performance “jazz hands” lesson can be improved is nonsense. As a teacher I would like to know how I can improve my practice and I have found it staggeringly difficult to get useful feedback on that over the years. i repeatedly taught the lesson I would have taught anyway during formal observations. The feedback was invariably about how to improve my performance and not how to teach better. When I asked to be observed informally and told how to improve nobody would.

I would have a policy whereby in one free lesson every week teachers would be expected to take some marking or planning and do it sitting in another teachers room while they teach. Each teacher would get a timetable of where they do this for the year. A brief www and ebi would be recorded for each one. This would inform decision making with respect to strengths and weakness of the teacher which would in turn inform CPD needs and what areas of practice people might demonstrate.

4) Improving practice- I would hope that (2) and (3) would be sufficient to improve the practice of most teachers. Some teachers however may be struggling for various reasons. In my experience coaching is the quickest and easiest way to improve the practice of someone struggling. It would be similar to experience 5 in this blogpost:

The key thing is that by observing staff at the beginning and end of each year and by having records of training needs and strengths it would be very easy to show impact with a minimum of nonsense.

2) Book scrutinies

Another area where random nonsense is regularly introduced.

All I need to see in a book scrutiny if the purpose is monitoring is:

  1. Is appropriate work being set for all students?
  2. Are pupils doing enough work?
  3. Is the work being marked properly?
  4. Are pupils learning?

Book scrutinies can be used to improve marking if marking has been identified as an area for improvement for a member of staff. Just pair people up with someone who’s marking is a strength and get them to look at each others marking. I have found this helpful in the past (although what I often learn from book scrutinies is that “outstanding” marking is something I will never do because life is too short and I’m not willing to invest that much time in marking. I’ll take “good” for marking and move on…)

3) Data –

If pupils are making outstanding progress it is far easier to argue that teaching and learning is outstanding. How can it be otherwise?

4) Pupil voice – 

Another common source of nonsense.

Very specific pupil voice designed to show that pupils know where they are, know their targets and feel that they are making progress helps evidence this.





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