However, ATL has long been concerned about the way in which classroom observations are being used in some schools.
The revised performance management (PM) arrangements for teachers, which came into force on 1 September 2007 in England, clearly set the expectation that classroom observations are to be developmental in nature and multi-purpose in usage.
Following the introduction of the Education (School Teacher's Appraisal) (England ) Regulations 2012, there is no longer a limit on the total period of classroom observation allowed per performance management cycle - previously, the limit was three hours. Self-evaluation for inspection therefore threatens to become a thin excuse in some schools for an onerous and poorly implemented lesson observation regime.
Observation of teaching is in some cases implemented outside the performance management system, causing further complication. ATL is clear that all classroom observation should be implemented within the defined PM system required by legislation.
The performance management regulations require that schools meet a certain standard of good practice. The essence is that classroom observation, and the performance management cycle, should contribute to a teacher's professional development and therefore should be conducted in a manner that equates to a professional dialogue.
The regulations underpin overall good practice and state that:
- the number and length of observations must be proportionate to the teacher's needs, but may not exceed three hours over the school year
- the amount of observation, with a clear focus agreed between the teacher and reviewer, must be recorded in the planning and review statement
- classroom observations may only be undertaken by persons with QTS
- written feedback must be received within five working days.
In addition, the Rewards and Incentive Group (now defunct, but formally comprised of the government and other organisations, including ATL) set out the following as good practice:
- the person to observe a lesson should have the appropriate training, expertise in the agreed focus and experience of the teacher's work
- teachers should be given adequate notice (at least five working days) of a proposed lesson observation
- feedback and professional dialogue following the observation should centre upon the previously agreed focus
- oral feedback should come within 24 hours of the lesson being observed and take the form of an informed professional dialogue where the observer/reviewer gives due weight to the teacher's knowledge, insight and judgement
- the written report should be evaluative, describing both strengths and areas for development, as appropriate; any grading system employed that is based upon allocation of a number or letter to a supposed level of performance will be over-simplistic and fail to have the validity that is claimed for it
- observers should see their work as part of a professional dialogue in which they are constrained to evaluate objectively and to report fairly and accurately.
The need for certain teachers to be observed more frequently is covered in the regulations under capability. Observations under capability proceedings must therefore be done formally and in line with those regulations.
In some schools, an onerous and often poorly implemented lesson observation regime supplements observations within the performance management arrangements. In England, the reason generally given for this monitoring is that it is required for the self-evaluation form (SEF) and hence for Ofsted.
Ofsted does not require this kind of monitoring process. Neither does Ofsted require the grading of individual lessons by or on behalf of headteachers.
ATL believes that teachers should not have their lessons graded in a simplistic manner (eg with a single number) merely to facilitate the self-evaluation exercise. The school SEF does not require individual teachers or lessons to be graded; headteachers are expected to know the overall standard of teaching in their schools and rate this in one grade for the whole school.
NQTs and HLTAs
There are separate procedures for the support and review of the work of newly qualified teachers; the performance management arrangements do not apply to NQTs in addition to or in place of those arrangements.
HLTAs also fall outside the performance management arrangements for teaching staff but the Training and Development Agency for Schools recommends that schools consider the performance management of their HLTAs.
Classroom observation for other purposes
ATL distinguishes between observation for management purposes and for the teacher's professional development. Ultimately, the former is concerned with judgements which will influence career and pay progression, the latter with non-judgmental support.
ATL strongly supports a new professionalism in which teachers can access and own continuing professional development (CPD). ATL believes mutually agreed observation of colleagues' classrooms and the associated peer mentoring and coaching to be a powerful CPD tool.
You can find more information in ATL's factsheet Classroom Observation.