The recent report into ‘What Makes Great Teaching’ by the Sutton Trust and Durham University has sparked many articles, column inches and reactions from people both inside and outside of education. One of the more interesting comments made by the report, hot on the back of Ofsted stating that they would no longer be grading individual lesson observations any more, was the fact that the report said:
“If we were to use the best classroom observation ratings, for example, to identify teachers as ‘above’ or ‘below’ average and compare this to their impact on student learning we would get it right about 60% of the time, compared with th50% we would get by just tossing a coin. Therefore, these judgements need to be used with considerable caution”.
This is clearly a worrying statement and one that any senior leader in charge of the quality of teaching and learning should really pay attention to. However, this does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Teaching observations can be a very useful source of development for both individual teachers and school leaders.
But the very nature of the fact you need to judge something, means it requires a subjective opinion. There is no automatic scoring system and this is therefore open to interpretation by different people. You only have to watch Strictly Come Dancing on a Saturday night to see how 4 trained experts can judge a performance so differently.
So instead of people suddenly claiming that it’s a flawed process and that it has no place in our schools, what we need to be doing is working out how we can make the process more reliable with greater consistency in judgements from your team of senior professionals. Do we expect the Olympics to remove judging from gymnastics, diving and ice skating just because the judges deliver a range of scores on a given performance?
Some things in life require subjective judgement and it’s down to us as senior leaders to develop training and quality assurance systems that enable us to have confidence in our judgements, without thinking that they are going to be scientifically correct 100% of the time. And as we know by now, when judging teaching over time, the observation should only be a small factor in a bigger picture.