RESEARCH ON GRADED OBSERVATIONS
IN FURTHER EDUCATION
Graded observations are a fact of life for most FE teachers and managers. They are usually undertaken as part of a college's quality assurance process for monitoring the quality of teaching and learning, using the OFSTED 1-4 scale (outstanding-good-requires improvement-inadequate).
Proponents of graded observations argue that a graded observation system:
provides direct (first-hand) evidence of the quality of teaching and learning in specific areas and contexts within FE colleges.
provides useful profile data for comparing departments and courses against a specified college 'quality' target.
provides OFSTED with concrete evidence of the robustness of the college's quality assurance methods for checking and improving the quality of teaching and learning (with the view that most OFSTED inspectors expect this anyway).
provides specific information on teacher under-performance and how staff development (and other potential corrective interventions) can be best targeted to rectify this.
Newbubbles Ltd makes the distinction between graded (judgemental) and ungraded (developmental) observations and is largely interested in colleges' adoption of graded observation systems as the primary method of improving teaching performance. Our research is interested in a single research question:
To what extent do graded observations improve a teacher's performance?
Our research already acknowledges the current criticisms of graded observation schemes. These criticisms suggest that graded observation is:
Demoralising - Particularly for teachers who feel that the graded awarded did not reflect the session taught.
Fear-Inducing - Teachers worry for days about being observed and whether the outcome will meet the college's expectations.
Inauthentic - Teachers use 'showcase' lessons to give observers what they expect to see, based on some college or OFSTED prescribed formual for a 'good practice lesson'
Invalid - a 45 minute or 1 hour observation is in no way reflective of the teacher's annual teaching contribution to the college, and that perhaps student achievement and satisfaction may be better indicators of .teaching quality'.
Risk-Averse - it discourages teachers from being experimental, creative and innovative in the classroom.
Divisive - it puts teachers in competition with each other, especially where colleges offer 'outstanding teachers' incentives such as prizes, increased pay increments or special privileges.
Newbubbles Annual Conference: The Future of Further Education, 22nd March 2013, Mandolay Hotel, Guildford.
Bradley Lightbody Reviews the Failings of Graded Observations to Improve Teaching and Learning - Edited Highlights
Newbubbles National FE Conference, 22nd March 2013