Damning report calls whole process of lesson observations into question

11 June 2014 | last updated: 10 December 2015

A new report has called into question the widely used practice of graded lesson observation, suggesting it has no discernible impact on the quality of teaching and learning.

A year-long project looking into the use and impact of lesson observation concludes that college lecturers do not believe a 'snapshot' classroom observation of a teacher was a valid or reliable way to make a judgement on their professional competence.

Dr Matt O'Leary surveyed almost 4,000 members of UCU as part of the largest and most extensive account of lesson observation in colleges. The report concluded there is a pressing need for change and sets out ten concrete recommendations to transform teacher assessment.

Respondents were highly critical of graded lesson observations, described by UCU as a 'box-ticking exercise'. Many respondents cited them as a source of increased stress and anxiety, and also reported they were used as a disciplinary stick, through being linked to capability procedures.

Key findings:

  • 89.7% agreed that unannounced observations would lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety amongst staff
  • 83.2% disagreed that unannounced observations were a welcome addition to the quality improvement process
  • 85.2% disagreed that graded observations were the most effective method of assessing staff competence and performance
  • 76.3% agreed that ungraded observations were more effective in assessing staff competence and performance
  • 74.8% disagreed that graded observations had helped them to improve as classroom practitioners
  • 67.4% agreed that graded lesson observations should no longer be used as a form of teacher assessment
  • 65.7% disagreed that graded observations were essential for improving the quality of teaching and learning
  • just 10.6% agreed that graded observations were the fairest way of assessing the competence and performance of staff.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Graded lesson observation is a box-ticking exercise that piles the pressure on staff but ultimately is of no discernible benefit. Watching one lesson is not a fair or reliable way to judge a person's professional competence.

'There has been an increasing trend to link observations to disciplinary procedures which we believe is wholly unacceptable. It is time for a sea-change in culture to overhaul this method of assessment of teachers.'

Dr Matt O'Leary said: 'Attempts to measure the professional capabilities of practitioners through the lens of graded lesson observations are a pointless exercise based on a pseudo-scientific approach to teacher assessment.

'The sooner we put an end to this pernicious practice, the better the sector will be for it. Although removing the graded element would certainly be a step in the right direction, it cannot be considered a panacea in itself. A root and branch reform of the way in which observation is conceptualised and engaged with as a form of educational intervention is what is required.'

Developing a national framework for the effective use of lesson observation in FE, Dr Matt O’Leary, Nov 13 [1Mb]

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