A response to Ofsted’s ungraded observation pilot in FE: Have we reached tipping point?

Hurrah for the Ofsted pilot of ungraded observations in the FE sector!


The debate about the soundness of grading lessons has been intensifying over the last months, in research publications such as Matt O’Leary’s influential report and related book:



It is a hot topic the blogosphere too and finally Ofsted have responded. It feels as if thinking in the sector has started to move  – FE colleges where the observation process had been almost part of the fixture and fittings have started to question, discuss and review their models. I think we are reaching a tipping point here and that it feels as if this complex, problematic aspect of FE life will be interrogated with more rigour, challenge and principled reflection than we have seen before. I am hugely hopeful about this situation and eager to see new models for reflection, observation and supportive staff development emerging from this spirit of enquiry.

Surely, this is an ideal opportunity to really think about these areas:

1. What do we aim to achieve through lesson observations, in a better future?What is our vision for the benefits of an enhanced approach and how can we engage teachers in that dialogue?

2. With a rising number of colleges piloting ungraded observations, how can we build our understanding of this approach so that we can decide how to explore it further?

3. Are we being honest about the purpose and drive of our current models? Do we call them developmental graded observations but really put the attention and focus on the measuring and assessing rather than the developmental aspect?

4. Do we even know what a developmental ungraded observation would be like? How to deliver one and what the mindset and skill set involved might be for teacher and observer?

5. Once we decide on our revised or new models for observation, what skills and approaches will the observers/coaches need to develop through training and other means?

6. How does peer sharing or visiting fit into this evolved model of lesson observation?

As we pilot new models, we really need to see high quality evaluation and feedback collated and shared so that the sector can gain from these experiences. In that vein, I hope that Ofsted will be transparent and detailed in their report of findings from their pilot of ungraded observations. There is, of course, the danger of Ofsted rejecting the notion of a wider roll out of ungraded observation if they come to negative conclusions in this pilot. I will be interested to see further details of how ungraded Ofsted observations in FE will work as more colleges experience them; so far I have only seen a few anecdotal but positive comments on Twitter from school teachers inspected in this way. One question for me will be whether Ofsted teams, so often focused on assessment and measuring, will engage staff with a different style of feedback conversation, opening up developmental dialogue and professional reflection. If ungraded is to become developmental, we would need to see this shift in approach and skills from some inspectors and some observers within the FE sector itself.

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