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Leadership, OFSTED, Redesigning Schools

Becoming a Self Regulating Profession

The issue of lesson grading seems to have been given a good airing this week on a whole series of blogs.  The most popular view seems to be that we should stop grading lessons. What I’m less certain of, having read these blogs, is what we are actually going to use as “quality measures” within the Education System.  Let’s not be naïve nor lack a strategic dimension to our thinking, with £88 billion pounds of public money used to fund education it is simply unrealistic to expect zero accountability, in fact it is unhelpful. 

Hay Group - Leadership Clarity

Hay Group – Leadership Clarity

We need to a set of intelligent accountability measures.  If we can’t propose sensible and intelligent measures there will always be someone or something that comes up with some pretty unintelligent blunt measures to impose on us.

In the first school I worked in there was a Year 10 (or actually Fourth Year for those readers who can remember old money) Pre-Vocational Science class on my timetable.  Their curriculum was explained to me very succinctly, “Teach them anything you like as long as you keep them all in the room.”  There was no external examination for the students, which might help passport them into further education or employment.

Numerous detentions and far too much shouting later, I think I met the curriculum aim given but I’m pretty sure I didn’t provide a quality education.  I certainly wouldn’t have accepted this for my own children, yet it was inflicted on other people’s children.  We’ve now gone from this extreme to another with an accountability system with Ofsted, performance tables and performance related pay.  It is a toxic maze for schools, headteachers and teachers to try to negotiate and is doing far more harm than good.

Don’t Stop Grading Lessons, Just Get Better at It

The “blogging bubble” is great to throw around ideas and suggest different approaches.  However, imagine a conversation with a prospective parent that goes something like this:

Headteacher:     “The quality of teaching is very important at this school.  We take great pride in the high quality teaching we provide” 

Parent:              “So, how good is the quality of teaching?”

Headteacher:     “I don’t know we don’t measure it”

Parent:              “Hmmmm.”

At some point we need to get real and actually devise an intelligent accountability system or accept the one imposed on us and get on with it.  Some of the blogs I’ve read vilify the twenty minute lesson observation and the requirement for a leader’s or school’s latest favourite “jazz hand approaches” being included within any observed lesson.  The answer is simple, stop doing it and get serious about grading some lessons properly.

Photo Credit: Jazz Hands by O Ryization on www.deviantart.com

Photo Credit: Jazz Hands by O Ryization on http://www.deviantart.com

The article by Professor Robert Coe is very interesting as he identifies a number of important issues and problems around lesson observations but his concluding remarks are:

“Various suggestions include that we should disband or reform Ofsted, that lesson observation should be used only formatively, or that we should stop doing it altogether.

My position is this: I am not against Ofsted; I am certainly not against inspection; nor am I against classroom observation. In fact there are good reasons for wanting to observe teaching. It is hard to imagine a credible evaluation system that doesn’t include some observation; when done properly it does contribute to a valid judgement of teaching quality; and the process of having to think harder about how to do it should help us to understand better what effective pedagogy means. However, if we are going to do it we should do it in the most defensible way possible.”

Professor Robert Coe, Classroom Observations: it’s harder than you think

He suggests trained, informer observers are required, valid observation protocols, ensuring an observer has evidence to support their interpretations and further research to investigate how feedback can improve teaching.  Grading lessons remains important unless we can come up with better measures around the quality of teaching – would proxy measures using the outcome of Student Voice be more acceptable or possibly just use examination outcomes to judge the quality of teaching and teachers?

Student Voice Data - November 2014 - St. Mary's Catholic College, Blackpool

Student Voice Data – November 2014 – St. Mary’s Catholic College, Blackpool (based on 3034 returns)

 Whole School Student Voice Data – November 2013 – We gather student voice data twice per year.  Individual teacher’s data is only seen by them.  Whole school data and departmental data is provided to all staff with the former placed on the College’s website.  The teachers in the top quartile for each measure is made known to all teachers as a “resource” for others to approach if they are interested in developing a particular area of practice.

All these measures have their benefits but also their downsides.  Lesson observation grading is an imperfect measure but is it a better measure of the quality of teaching than nothing?  When added to the other two metrics mentioned above and the findings triangulated a useful, balanced measure may be obtained.

Don’t Grade All Lessons

There are horror stories that circulate around about schools and academies where the number of graded lesson observations have reached epidemic proportions.  This is the toxic accountability gone mad that will actually limit improvements in teaching in a very short time.

Our professional knowledge about assessing students’ work tells us that feedback is powerful.  It also tells us that if you are formatively assessing work don’t put a grade on it but do expect a “learner response”.  The same is true of formative lesson observations for teachers.  These are about developing practice and gradings have no place in them.  Clear feedback is needed against agreed criteria and the opportunity to revisit elements of practice to refine and hone in a deliberate way.  In addition, the work of the National Teacher Enquiry Network on Lesson Study is beginning to help evolve observations in lessons in a manner that allows a growing body of practitioner led research and evidence to be determined.

External Accountability versus Professional Controls

Tim Oates’ presentation at the SSAT National Conference 2013 was facinating.  He stated, “We’re not in crisis in education we are just not improving – what will take us from good to great and how will we measure it?”

He emphasised the need for “control factors” but not necessarily top down.  In High Performing School Systems these controls build quality into the education system and so reduce the need for aggressive external accountability.  It is the control factors that ensure quality.

POGOF Offers


I work with a governing body who believe if you “Pay One” you “Get One Free” – it’s our POGOF mentality for teachers.  Whilst trying to blame the governors, I’m as guilty as any one for doing this – two great English teachers at interview, appoint them both.  Looking for two Assistant Headteachers but five top class applicants in front of you – we’ll have the lot.  I’m not joking, we’ve done both these things recently and many more beside.  I have never been disappointed or regretted it.

At the moment we have numerous jobs advertised and will significantly overstaff the school by the 7th March 2014, when the last scheduled interview is.  I accept we are lucky because of the positive budget situation we have but this is because we have good student numbers which in turn are linked to the great staff and the fabulous work they do – it’s a virtuous spiral.  If you think overstaffing the school is expensive, the costs of being understaffed are ten times worst.  It happened one year, never again.


A deliberate strategy of going out early, at risk, and seeking to employ the brightest, best and most emotionally literate teachers helps build “controls” into our school.  As a consequence the need for accountability systems begin to decrease.  This “control factor” is enhanced by assessment, tracking and intervention systems that seek to maximise student achievement.

Licensing Teachers

Tristram Hunt M.P. managed to stir things up with his Teacher Licence scheme that got a very mixed review but interestingly was quite well received by some of the unions:

“We need to keep improving if we are to deliver for every child and to keep pace.  My priority as an education secretary in the next Labour government would be to make sure we have the best generation of teachers in the world – a highly qualified, inspiring, self-motivating and dedicated professional workforce.

International evidence is clear: the quality of teaching – not an obsessive focus on the type of school – is what drives up standards.”

I’m not sure there is that much to disagree with here particularly as you put it alongside Dylan Wiliam’s contribution to this debate in, Teacher Quality: why it matters, and how to get more of it:

“Our future economic prosperity therefore requires that as well as improving the quality of entrants to the teaching profession, we have to make the teachers we have better—what I call the “love the one you’re with” strategy.”

The confusion with the proposals put forward on licensing teachers was the idea of teachers not being re-licensed or being de-licensed and essentially unable to practice.  I can see a huge box ticking bureaucratic nightmare on the horizon.  If I was to be critical of some Labour education policy, in the past, it would be the unprecedented and unnecessary levels of bureaucracy they generated at times.  Employment of teachers is a matter for schools, as employers, and not government.  The licensing scheme confuses this.

However, the insistence of teachers being required to undertake high quality professional development, this would also challenge the education system to raise the quality of professional development on offer to teachers, builds in another control factor and further pushes back external accountability.  I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor who marketed their practice on the basis they hadn’t undertaken any professional development in the past twenty years.  The same should be true of teachers.

The post, The New Professionalism – Reimagining the Profession, was a rather crude attempt to look at an alternative career structure for teachers.  Imagine if the stages required a teacher to have undertaken a certain level of classroom based research and attained certain professional qualifications to progress.  This is a model found in many other professions.

School Organisation Not Type Does Matter

I would also challenge Tristram Hunt MP to take into account how schools are organised:

There are benefits to thinking around the organisation of schools.  He’s right, it is not about type but families of schools, organised in local geographical groupings, have significant benefits.  Firstly, they have shared ownership for a group of students and can work together for the benefit of all these students, not just those in an individual school.  We have experience of this in the Blackpool Family of Catholic schools, more specifically in a hard federation with Christ the King Catholic Primary School and in the very near future as part of a multi academy trust.

David Hargreaves - Benefits of a Family of Schools

Secondly, this local family of school can build in internal controls to monitor, evaluate and develop the quality of provision and outcomes.  This reduces the need for external accountability as quality is built into the system through “controls” such as enhanced professional development, shared innovation and knowledge transfer and high quality assessment, tracking and intervention programmes devised with shared expertise and implemented with shared human capital and resources.  This is possible outside of formal organisational structures but less likely to occur and also more difficult to maintain as leaders change.

More of these Controls

  • Attract and recruit only the top graduates with high levels of emotional intelligence and provide high quality on-going early training and induction.
  • Make engagement in high quality professional develop aimed at improving practice a requirement not an option. Government, unions, higher education, researchers and the school system working together to provide classroom based research opportunities and a professional qualification and accreditation framework focussed on both enhanced subject and pedagogical knowledge.
  • Develop a structured curriculum from 3-19, with key knowledge – factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive (avoiding the false skills/knowledge debate) – structured in the correct sequence supported by appropriate assessment and accreditation systems
  • Create local families of schools who hold each other to account in a rigorous manner
  • Create local families of schools who share human capital and develop social and decisional capital to enhance the overall professional capital of the workforce.
  • Develop ourselves as a self-regulating profession with a Royal College of Teaching

Less of these Accountability Measures

  • Ofsted
  • Performance Tables
  • Performance Related Pay

As Andy Hargreaves says, “Accountability starts where responsibility ends.”  Let’s make sure we take on responsibility for holding ourselves accountable, a self-regulated profession with the associated metrics, and push back the bounds of external accountability.  Don’t look for Easy Street, it’s a dead end.

There are a plethora of posts on grading lesson observations that have been written recently, you may want to look at these as they give opposing views to help you develop your own perspective:

Professional Development at my Academy – No Lesson Grades EVER! By @chrismoyse

The Role of Lesson Observations by @TeacherToolkit



14 thoughts on “Becoming a Self Regulating Profession

  1. A thought provoking blog as ever. Fair play for swimming against the tide in terms of recent blogs on the matter. I like the idea of comprehensive pupil voice and exam outcomes (and possibly book scrutiny) being thrown into the mix.
    The conversation at the top of the page shows the dilemma. Quality of teaching and learning is everything in a school.

    Posted by mrbenney | January 18, 2014, 8:51 am
    • Thanks Damian. If we’re going to engage in this debate the key is to put forward measures we do want to use not argue our way to measuring nothing as we question total reliability

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | January 18, 2014, 8:58 am
      • Agree totally. I worry that in future a lesson which clearly is not effective/well planned/well delivered (in short not good) and the teacher defending it by saying your grading is unreliable and pupils may have been learning just as much as they would have in a well planned/delivered/effective lesson. I have delivered lessons where they have gone perfectly and pupils have forgotten nearly everything by the next lesson. I have also delivered lessons where things didn’t go to plan and yet, against the run of play, they remembered quite well. However, this is NOT the norm.

        Posted by mrbenney | January 18, 2014, 9:05 am
  2. Why is it that good, thoughtful, common sense and educationalists based ideas like yours are rejected for the hard hitting Alan Sugar, you’re failing (if not then we’ll raise the standard until you are) and you’re fired approach?Judgement (and fear, which there seems more of than I can ever remember) in itself does not bring about improvement.

    We are heading for a car crash and it pains me. I remember teaching students who had no hope of ‘passing’, before vocational qualifications (and before they all counted for 4 A* GCSE) – they didn’t attend, didn’t progress, didn’t go on to further education, they lost hope. I saw the difference going to university had on individuals and whole communities in very poor areas, it changed people. One tier examinations where the ‘weaker’ students can answer the first question on the paper(?), or at least very little (that could make mocks interesting), I worry.

    It’s been so long since we handed educational strategy to politicians, that we have forgotten how to ‘take controls’, and I agree, we need to be highly accountable, it’s public money, it matters, as do students. Head teachers are more powerful than they think.

    Posted by Ian White | January 18, 2014, 10:50 am
  3. For what it is worth, my own view is like yours, that we need to retain classroom visiting with a purpose of improving staff quality, but also as quality assurance. Few other systems could explore teacher-learner relationships for example.
    The detail of what you can actually “see”, I explored in this post; essentially teaching standards 6 and 5, http://www.inclusionmark.co.uk/index.php/learningteaching/learning-and-teaching-ideas/lesson-observations

    Posted by Chris Chivers | January 18, 2014, 5:41 pm
  4. Last Monday’s live discussion was interesting and worth cutting short a SLT meeting for! Whilst there has been follow up debate in blog/twitter land, I’m not sure how far it has reached, in terms of accountability across the huge majority who don’t participate in such chat. Lesson grades are unpopular-lots of compelling evidence and reasons [as with Coe] for not using them-others, and you can’t avoid the Ofsted prep and more valid ones- for using them. I agree arguments against can lapse into populist rhetoric-bit like mentioning Gove, Wilshaw or Ofsted-off the tweets go! When asked about alternatives to measure effective teaching, Coe struggled with a bit of parent/student survey and Alison Peacock didn’t have time to elaborate on her accountability alternative-guess the debate wasn’t on this and it set the scene for part 2.

    There hasn’t been too much to read about on different systems that will provide a way of improving learning and teaching, monitoring and supporting teachers via obs and other ways whilst considering what is the most effective best practice in your school [and then ensuring it is shared and everyone is clear on expectations] Chris Moyse and a couple of others have revealed their plans but there doesn’t seem to be much from elsewhere-perhaps it isn’t a priority area, perhaps leaders are happy with using grades/reluctant to test Ofsted waters, perhaps they just aren’t telling and sharing, perhaps far too busy with other stuff like getting out of measures/getting ready for inspection or simply too busy to be involved in using time on these debates! I think they are missing out.

    I would hope to have an alternative quality of teaching self and school evaluation with a portfolio of evidence covering a range of key areas [I think that they are key!] by summer-bit revealed here

    The NTEN lesson study does provide a different approach for both observers and observed and both of our schools are keen to be involved in the research which we hope will provide the best learning for our students and best CPD for our teachers-observations will be used and are vital; how they are used most effectively, is more important perhaps than being side-tracked on to grade or not too grade BUT if it opens up the debate-fine by me! My views are here anyway!

    All the best with your family of schools Stephen-the Blackpool Ofsted was as you predicted-guess Sefton may be next to feel their breath on their necks and we will look to a future without LAs. So many vested interests now involved-what did the Pistols sing about the future?!

    Posted by david jones | January 19, 2014, 10:54 am
    • Thanks as ever Dave, for taking the time to comment. I’ve been reading your blog posts including the one on lesson observations as prep before writing this. The key for me is if we are going to stop grading lessons, perfectly possible, what is the alternative measure we are suggesting? Too many blogs wanted to get rid of grading but didn’t suggest an alternative.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | January 19, 2014, 12:51 pm
      • Totally agree and to be honest, although I don’t grade, some teachers ask for one and want one. Their reasons may be simply to compare [which I reject] but there are valid personal professional reasons why they ask. Some are convinced that I have a secret grade anyway to keep for Ofsted/appraisal but the majority have enjoyed the chance to discuss feedback on the impact their teaching strategies have had on learning. The observers still find it hard to feedback and write-up without giving too much emphasis on their views and advice and not enough on the teacher’s comments they should have sought! I train them on the job-feeding back supportively and honestly is difficult and as worthwhile as the actual planning and teaching-no wonder peer assessing kids find it so hard [and get it wrong!]

        Posted by david jones | January 19, 2014, 1:39 pm


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