Teachwell | Fear and Loathing in UK Classrooms
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Fear and Loathing in UK Classrooms


Why do teachers need to be observed?


It seems to me the whole accountability regime is just a system of collective punishment for the fact that some teachers were not good at their job. Capability procedures have always been there but the argument goes that removing poor teachers is not easy – but why does that mean observations? There are many indicators that a teacher is not up to the job – children’s work, behaviour in the classroom, etc. I have never known a single time when everything was fine but the observation highlighted serious concerns. Except when bullying was involved – it’s strange how that happens…

What does observing all teachers achieve? It is a nit-picking exercise in many cases which is a waste of everyone’s time. Except of course people who are insecure and like to nit-pick at other human beings to make themselves feel better but that’s not a good reason to conduct observations.

As for the reliability of the feedback – it’s always a bit suspicious how quite a few teachers have the same area of weakness and how it has been noticed at the same time. Obviously this requires the whole school to implement a new initiative, which lo and behold, SLT have already researched and is ready to be deployed before the ink on the observations sheets is dry. Neat trick.

 What has the regime of observations actually achieved?

I’m not convinced that all Heads and SLT believe in observations. I worked for an Executive Head once – if you got a good or outstanding he didn’t observe you again that year, only bothered to conduct observations for teachers who were struggling and needed support. I was told during teacher training that observations were a poor indicator of how good teachers were by a deputy head of a very successful school. How many heads have hired teachers off the back of an interview observation to find that it had no bearing to their day-to-day teaching? Are observations a good indication of whether teachers are good or are they the only way you know how to assess a teacher? The latter reason does not justify observations.

For many teachers, grades are meaningless and discredited as they know it relates more to the politics in school, how secure SLT are in their roles, and what game needs to be played for Ofsted, than their actual teaching performance.

There is no proof that after all this time we genuinely have more schools that are performing well or better teachers (every new group of teachers is the best yet, until they are burnt out – the timeframe of which is getting shorter and shorter). In 1988 when this whole debacle started, it was in the then Governments interests to be biased to get their reforms through, a trend which has continued with each meddling Education Secretary who has manipulated the figures to justify their ‘reforms’. In this way the politicians have provided excellent role models for insecure Heads and SLT members everywhere, whose first job when starting a new job is to ensure that observation grades are low so they ‘rise’ steadily under their leadership.

The more a school subscribes to a micro-managing accountability regime – the more they need members of SLT to spend their time doing the micro-managing. They don’t even know why they are doing it any more just that it needs to happen because Ofsted will want the evidence. Even when Ofsted have said they won’t, it is not believed and they carry on. This is what is so disturbing about the current state of education – even when there is legislation, never mind rhetoric, that could make life easier it is not acted on…

Where to go next?

Here are some suggested questions that might actually help develop some teachers.

  • When have teachers improved their practice genuinely?
  • What was the process?
  • What helped?
  • What didn’t?
  • Are there any patterns emerging from the above answers?

In the current climate, good and outstanding are just meaningless words on a sheet of paper, not a reflection of teaching practice – if they were then those teachers on whose observation sheets they are written would be more confident, given greater freedom and be trusted by Heads and SLT. This is not the outcome we have seen. Let observations go, like all those pointless fads before them, we’ll all be happier as a result.

Originally posted on the Labour Teachers website.

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