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Observations: Scotland & England
November 3, 2014
3

It seems a long time ago when we all gathered to reflect on #lovelearning14 at Preston Lodge but I remember the surprise when our Scottish colleagues shared the fact that some teachers in Scotland don’t get observed. After me asking them to clarify the point they explained that Scotland hasn’t traditionally had a strong lesson observation culture with practices varying in different local authorities. Some observe, some don’t. The amount and frequency of observations varies in England but having your lessons observed is as much of a certainty as death and taxes.

This resulted in some dialogue over the positives and negatives of observations or the possible lack of them.

Observations: Positives

Observations done well lead to leadership having a reasonably accurate picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their team. This means the expertise can be shared, utilising those strengths. It also means that support and training can be provided to develop staff, in regards to weaknesses.

When the cycle of observations is effective coaching to develop staff and reflective practice become embedded in school culture and many staff share their plans and ideas for lessons.

Observations: Negatives

With the shadow of performance related pay some unscrupulous school leaders may choose to use observations to control staff pay and manage their budget.

Some staff feel stressed when lesson observations are scheduled which has a detrimental rather than positive impact on learning.

It can also be argued that observations don’t give a true picture as staff and students will behave differently whilst being watched.

No Observations: Positives

The lack of stress and avoidance of artificial teaching to tick boxes or meet new criteria and expectations is the most obvious. This would mean that a teacher could focus on honing their art without the distractions of initiative overload.

There is also the issue of performance management not being linked to a snapshot of a teachers performance throughout the year.

No Observations: Negatives

One colleague mentioned that they had a teacher in their department whom they believed to be exceptional from their results and their reputation from the children they teach. This teacher would not allow anyone to enter their classroom. A precious resource in terms of expertise was not being utilised to support and develop their colleagues.

Another issue is ongoing development; one part of the observation cycle is the reflective coaching which, when done well, is an invaluable CPD tool.

The most worrying aspect is that poor performance could be overlooked. Issues that could be spotted and resolved with support and training might go unnoticed in a system without observations. Our colleagues and the learners in our care deserve better than that.

Conclusion?

This list doesn’t even begin to cover all the positives and negatives and I would suggest that this be the beginning of a discussion rather than the end of a reflection…


  1. Having recently finished my probation year, I am familiar with the process of regular observations and the accompanying stress. However on reflection I think they have the potential to be one of the best tools teachers have to improve. If they are set up in a genuinely formative and supportive environment where you can use the notes from the resulting discussion to change and grow as a teacher, then they are very powerful. I would also like to see more teachers filming and watching their own practise and more freely sharing examples of great lessons, I think there needs to be a bit of a culture shift for this to happen.

  2. Thanks for joining the debate Jude.

    We sometimes video lessons using Iris; not as much as we should as it’s still a developing practice. It does make you reflect on how you teach when you watch yourself and since it’s not linked to performance management and sharing is optional it removes many of the stresses of formal observations.
    We’re lucky to have the supportive and formative culture in school; it’s created by being very clear on what observations are for.

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