Ofsted is to ditch graded lesson observations in an FE and skills in a pilot following a University College Union (UCU) report that raised “serious questions about the fitness for purpose” of the practice.

The education watchdog will, from September, be trying out inspections in the sector with no grading of teaching in individual sessions.

The move will have been welcomed by the UCU whose report, Developing a National Framework for the Effective Use of Lesson Observation in FE, came out on Wednesday (June 11).

It said: “This report raises serious questions about the fitness for purpose of prevailing observation assessment systems in FE.”

Author Dr Matt O’Leary, principal lecturer in post-compulsory education at the University of Wolverhampton, 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.”

He added: “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.”

Ofsted’s FE and skills director Lorna Fitzjohn  (pictured) revealed via Twitter on Monday, June 9, that its graded lesson observations in FE and Skills could be ending for good.

She tweeted: “Ofsted is to pilot FE and skills inspections without grading teaching in individual sessions.”

A spokesperson for the education watchdog later told FE Week: “Our prime concern is with assessing and improving the quality of teaching and learning that learners receive.

“Lesson observation is one of the key means by which inspectors can assess the quality of teaching and learning.

“We are always looking at ways we might improve the inspection process and we propose to pilot how Ofsted may inspect without grading individual lessons as part of a consultative pilot in the autumn term.”

But colleges also the practice themselves and Marc Whitworth, acting director of employment policy and services at the Association of Colleges, said: “Evidence from our work with members suggests that individually graded lessons can be useful in assessing the quality of teaching and learning for students.

“Receiving feedback on a number of occasions across the year is also an important part of assessment, which is required to help teachers improve their skills.

“However, uniform approaches to lesson observations, which prescribe what colleges should do to observe teaching and learning, are not appropriate nor helpful to support the ongoing commitment to students.”

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  1. david kaandi

    a great example of union working to affect change in a positive way, by lobbying and not striking. this for me shines a light on the ‘future model’ of union effectiveness. no surprise that the AoC agree with the unions on this matter.

    a collective voice is far better that a fractured shout!

  2. Terry Pearson

    I would like to see Marc sharing the evidence he comments about. Where is the evidence to show “that individually graded lessons can be useful in assessing the quality of teaching and learning for students”? Bring it into the open so we can have an informed discussion!
    Matt has provided plenty of evidence to show that graded lesson observations are an inadequate and inappropriate method of collecting data upon which to judge the quality of teaching in FE classrooms or to judge the performance of college teachers. I find it incredibly difficult see any reasons to continue with the counterproductive practice of judging teaching or a teacher’s performance through the use of graded lesson observations.

    • I do welcome the idea of ungraded session observations. However as suggested above, that why continue with the counterproductive practice of judging teaching or teacher’s performance is through the use of graded lesson observations.
      A measure perhaps that would indicate the quality of teaching, learning and assessment would be to ultimately look at success rates, trends and destinations of cohorts that particular teachers teach. Would that give us a measure of quality or would some teachers see this as highlighting the success or failure of their respective groups rather than their own performance, as observations measure performance during a very short window of 40-60 minutes?
      I often hear teachers asking what grade did I get and not focusing on what and how can I improve the learner experience.

  3. Rebecca Cowling

    I think holding lecturers to account solely on the basis of achievement of their students is equally wrong, as this is impacted by the available teaching hours, incoming grades and attendance etc, all of which lecturers have minimal influence over. We need a mixed approach.

  4. It always struck me as iniquitous that a persons fitness to teach should be judged on a 45minute observation out of the 800+ hours in front of learners over the whole year.
    Taking learner progress into account as an alternative has it’s appeal and merits. However, learner progress should not just be about academic success.
    Progress used to include looking at how far a learner had progressed since commencing their studies.
    The learner may not achieve a pass or a particular grade at the end of the course, but may have made significant personal improvements nonetheless.
    It is unfortunately a difficult result to quantify, since it may involves factors other than academic ones. Remember, FE colleges regularly attract learners with a wide range of social, intellectual and educational needs not picked up or not supported at the school level, and these have to be dealt with at the same time as academic education taking place.
    If you are to judge effectiveness of teaching it can’t rest only on academic results.

    • Mark Johnson

      I totally agree Andrew, progress is more than just just ‘value added’ and ‘high grades’. Which also brings its own quality issues, especially when mangers are only focussed on what high grades the learners have got; regardless of background, social issues and other needs as you mentioned above. Which in turn puts more pressure onto the lecturers to inflate or coax grades out of students rather than letting them find their own level within the subject. Going off point the government funding mechanisms skew this type of learning or achievement.