Will book scrutiny become the new lesson observation?


I just read this in an Ofsted report..

 Although joint observations during the inspection indicated that senior leaders are accurate in their evaluations of teaching, school records show that the quality of teaching is judged to be good in a high proportion of lessons. This gives the school an unrealistic picture of the overall quality of teaching, because the detailed scrutiny of pupils’ work undertaken by inspectors with school leaders indicated that teaching requires improvement.

It concerns me. 

Are we just moving from using lesson observation to judge teaching to using book scrutiny instead?

Here it seems to be a real limiter. 

I’m concerned about people looking at student books without the teacher present to explain, guide and show how they use student books.

I have a particular way that I get students to work. I mark in a particular way. However if you were to just look in their folders no-one would be able to work this out without explanation from myself or indeed the student. 

In the way in which people started to plan to teach in a particular way for observations/Ofsted, will teachers be under pressure to make student books look a particular way so the outsider can see progress? Should we be deliberately enforcing a set style for student work and marking, for someone outside to recognise what’s going on?

I fear it’s the way things are going.


The things I’ve taken from #TLAB14


At the last minute I managed to get funding from Suffolk LA as part of my Key Practitioner role to go to #TLAB14. I’m very grateful because I’ve taken some important ideas away from it.

Keynote:Elise Foster

Elise shared with us the concept of Multipliers and Diminishers in leadership. A multiplier will increase results 2.3x whereas diminishers only 40%. She also shared leadership styles and asked us to reflect if we knew leaders with these traits. I’m assuming that most people in the room reflected on their own style whilst thinking of people who have these characteristics.

It was a great introduction to the day as we were all considering our own leadership and how we work with our staff. It was implied that these leadership styles were negative however I would argue that rather than needing to change you need to refine these traits. It is clear though, that to get the best out of our teams we need to lead and manage them with thought. Her illustrative story clearly showed that giving people the opportunity to ‘fly’ will reward us more than ‘micro managing’. Are we brave enough to let go?

Here is the Multiplier trailer for further info.

Workshop 1: Leadership Panel

The chair was Megan Reitz (Ashridge Business School) and on the panel Mark Stead ( Headteacher at Berkhamsted), Dr Rona Mackenize (Prinicipal Lincoln UTC), Michael Whitworth (Principal Wren Academy) and Sean Harford ( Eastern regional director Ofsted).

It was an eclectic mix of personalities and perspectives. Each outlined their thoughts on leadership and then there were a couple of questions from the audience.

I was particularly impressed with Rona’s philosophy and thoughts on leadership. She came across as a fair, trusting, forward thinking leader. No doubt a multiplier. Someone you’d be able to work for. Someone you could be honest with and know that you won’t get in trouble or be judged. She’s starting a new school for September opening and alongside her VP Andrew I’m sure will succeed.

Equally impressive was Mark, the hosting Headteacher. He was very clear that his job is to develop staff so they do move on to bigger things. He says his SLT is always changing due to people stepping up and then moving on. He was very much a multiplier.

Sean Harford confirmed what some of us are beginning to see; a two way dialogue between Ofsted and teachers. He confirmed that Ofsted are using social media more.

Someone mentioned data and Ofsted making their minds up about a school before they even step in the building based on results. He challenged us with a question.

If Ofsted used ‘expected’ levels of progress across subjects(2 levels at ks2 and 3 levels ks3/4) what % schools would be classed as good? i.e get ‘expected’ levels

There was silence.Well I love my data so the answer 15% was pretty shocking. So put alongside the fact that Ofsted say that 80% of schools are ‘Good’ or better he made his point quite well.

I enjoyed the panel. I took from it real life examples of multiplying leaders and my great little Ofsted fact that I will tell as many people that will listen this week.

Workshop 2:CPD Panel

Yet another panel but this time with the focus of CPD.

Fellow #SLTcamper Phil Stock skilfully chaired the panel of Ken Brechin (Cramlington Learning Village), Dr Katherine Burn (University of Oxford), Eric Wareham and Andrew Newell (Iris Connect).

A similar format allowed panelists to explain their thoughts on CPD.

The main idea that panelists agreed on was the use of action research as personal development for teacher. Obviously panelists spoke of lesson observation but not by SLT making a judgment but triads or the use of lesson study for it to be a non-threatening developmental process.

One issue raised by the audience was the access to academic journals in order for teachers to read and reflect on what has already been researched. Ken confirmed he had looked into this and it was a ridiculous amount of money to subscribe to fee paying journal sites.  I can recommend JSTOR as you can access 3 journals every 2 weeks for free. OK this isn’t ideal but not many teachers would have much more time to read more so this could be a useful facility.

The biggest idea I took from the CPD panel was the question about impact of CPD. If CPD doesn’t have direct impact on student outcomes then why bother doing it? However it was acknowledged that this isn’t as easy as it sounds. How can you ‘prove’ that what you did for CPD has a direct link on student attainment or progress? I think the action research model has opportunity to prove this as it is based on identifying something at the start that you’d like to investigate. So we should stop any generic, whole school even large group CPD. It just won’t hit the nail on the head. Some schools need to totally re-think what they mean by CPD.

Workshop 4: Teacher effectiveness ( research based) with Prof Daniel Muijs

I’m interested in research and what it can tell us about teaching. This workshop didn’t fail to give us lots of interesting outcomes from research on teacher effectiveness. Daniel was engaging and involved us in discussion. I truly believe that the student-teacher relationship is key to teaching and he confirmed this as an important aspect whilst things such as school uniform aren’t.

It was a real shame that the time went so quickly. I’m sure lots of us had further questions for Daniel. I look forward to receiving his presentation to go through his key points again.

Keynote: Andy Williams

A great way to end the day; a Headteacher with humour! Andy shared with us the challenge of opening a new school in the same building, with the same staff and the same students as the predecessor school. He shared his core values with us and proudly said that he is ignoring the progress 8 measures to do what is best for the students in his school. I admire this man. How many other Heads would be brave enough to do this? Do what is best for the children and not for league tables?


Over the day I met some inspiring leaders from around the country. One secondary teacher who has just become an AH. His job is to be the leader of a primary school that his school has just joined with which is in special measures. I wished him luck!

At lunch I spent a good half hour talking data with Andrew Wright and discussing our experiences of large schools.

It was great to see some fellow #SLTCampers ‘sans’ beanie. They’ve become my teaching colleagues out of school.

And of course, no ‘out of school’ CPD would be the same without Anna Palmer who never fails to inspire and support me.

Thanks to the friendly and welcoming Nick Dennis for the great venue, food and organisation.

My aim is to come next year and bring someone else. In the meantime reflecting on how I can become more of a multiplier.

A case for not having parent’s evenings…or at least not as we know them.


Once a year, maybe twice, teachers around the country sit behind a desk waiting to meet parents and guardians from a particular year group/class. It’s usually after a long, busy day teaching. We’re usually very tired and hungry. It is a common feature that out of all the students/parents that have made appointments, it’s not really the ones you need to see. 

I actually really enjoy meeting parents & guardians. It’s fascinating hearing what they say about their child and it’s often insightful, especially when the child is there.

You see a different side to many students. I’ve seen some be incredibly aggressive and rude to their parents  and then others turn into meek and mild children as soon as their parent speaks.

But I often wonder what is the point of these once a year events. Why do some teachers/schools leave it to a set date on a calendar to share good and sometimes bad news about progress, attitude and behaviour? Whilst schools have ongoing assessment and reporting systems throughout the year a parent may access, do they all engage with it? Is the 3 hours sat in a chair, with trapped time, sometimes with gaps, the most effective use of time?

I propose that schools ditch parents evenings as we know them for the following…

  • As soon as a child joins the school parents must provide a working, regularly checked email and phone number.

The following is for a secondary school

  • ‘Contact weeks’ should be placed on the school calendar. I’m going to suggest every 4 weeks, however if a teacher sees students every fortnight they could only do this every 8 weeks. It might work well if departments staggered their contact weeks.
  • During this week teachers should attempt to contact all students they teach who fit a certain criteria for that contact week. For example 
  • contact week 1 – all students whose attitude is a concern & a selected group for positive attitudes
  • contact week 2 – all students who are not making progress in the first term & a selected group for good progress
  • contact week 3 – all students who are not completing homework & a selected group that have completed exceptional homework

etc etc

These weeks should not restrict any other contact with home, however they provide a focus for regular updates. It could be designed so every student receives contact home from their teacher at least once a term. I would argue that if you are a teacher of a core subject with few classes, this should be once a half term.

The contact doesn’t need to be detailed or onerous. A quick email that says:

Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms X,

Just letting you know that George’s attitude, behaviour and progress are all positive at the moment.

Miss Cox

or a head of subject could ask for a ticked list of students who deserve a praise postcard home for the specific subject of contact week I.e homework . If the administration was set up to run smoothly, all the teacher would need to do would be to tick which students deserve a postcard from their class lists. Even for a teacher with 20 different classes it could be done reasonably quickly.

However, for those that are not achieving there must be two way communication. The parent needs to acknowledge the issue. Phone calls are always best, then followed by emails.

If a member of staff is entering data about a student on a system that in any way shows a concern the they must follow this with contact home. The sooner the better.

All actions must be recorded. If I teach a student for the first time in year 11 I should be able to read a file of all that has been done for the student and all home communication for the past 4 years. There should not be a ‘drop’ in communication just because I haven’t taught them before. In fact, as soon as a student gets a new teacher, especially at KS4, there should be an introductory call/email to establish the new teacher-parent relationship. It shouldn’t wait until there’s something negative. 

The role of middle leaders in the process

I believe that if there are more than two subject concerns about a child then someone should be looking holistically at them. Depending on your staffing structure, this could be a head of faculty, if all concerned subjects are only in one faculty or the leader whose responsibility it is for academic progress. Sometimes people have heads of year or academic coordinators for this. If all the above contact and data is collated on an online system, there should be automatic alerts for this leader to see that there are several concerns for this child. They need to take action to see what is happening with this child, if there are any underlying pastoral issues that may affect performance, whether any special needs may not be being addressed or whether they just need a reminder of expectations. This should not just be behaviour based. Too many pastoral leaders focus just on the behaviour rather than the progress. Only a small number of students can misbehave and still make progress! As part of the investigation they should be able to access all the information given by the teachers on what has already been done for the student. No emails to staff saying ‘Can you tell me about how George is getting on in your class?’They should be able to access all this information already. They should be concerned if the data highlights an issue but there are no records of actions by teachers. 

So no parents evenings?

In theory, no. However there could be academic progress evenings where only those who are a concern across the board are personally invited to attend. Teachers aren’t needed. The year/academic leaders run the evening by seeing their top 20 under performers, taking a holistic view of their progress. This must be recorded so all the teacher can see what was discussed and what action is taking place.

What about the ‘good’ students?

The contact week should have positives too. As above, praise postcards, names in the newsletter, subject awards, celebration assemblies etc. Middle leaders can phone/email for selected students who are performing well in several areas.

Isn’t this just MORE work?

At PedagooLondon14 some one said, if you get staff to do something new, you should ditch something else. I propose schools ditch:

  • All parents evenings ( potentially 18+ hours gained)
  • Use half a PD day in September to read new student files and contact new parents (year 7 and any new students for the teacher) – potentially 4 hours
  • No meetings or training in contact weeks (potentially 18 hours gained)

Whilst contact weeks may not overall save time, I think they have the potential to have significantly more impact overall. For the system to be effective, it relies on communication. As yet I’ve not found a data system that does what it would need to for the above, but some are getting there.

I work in a large school. It’s tough knowing all students but we have a duty not allow any child to fade into the background or ‘get away’ with things that should be dealt with quickly. In my experience contact with home has the potential to change the way a whole class works, by changing the dynamics of individuals. Some students rely on us NOT contacting home.

I believe teaching is about relationships. If we begin with positive relationships with home then when things start to get tough, we can work together. In all my contact with parents over my career 99% of parents have been supportive and want us to ensure their child does well. We should never hear a comment that I once heard a year 11 parent say at a parents evening in March, “Why is this the first time I’ve heard about this?”.


Do any of you already do this? A similar model? If so, I would love to hear about it.

It turns out that I was right…


Yesterday I was at #PedagooLondon and I attended David Didau’s session which was entitled ‘You’re wrong!’. He challenged many areas in teaching that we perceive to be ‘right’ and proposed that in fact they may well be ‘wrong’.

One area he looked at was testing students and how frequently we do this in relation to the actual teaching/input.

To put my teaching in context I teach two subjects that are 100% exam. I have always believed that to prepare a student for an exam we must make them do exams.

As I explained to a colleague the other day, if you were training for a basketball shoot out, yes, you may spend time getting fit, stretching your muscles, working out where to stand and what angle to throw, but surely you should spend most of your time actually throwing hoops? When you miss the hoop, spend time working out why. Get someone else to watch and offer advice. Keep practicing. Keep throwing hoops. So when the shoot out arrives, you’re so used to throwing the ball, it becomes second nature. You know what a ball looks like. You know what a hoop looks like. You know what to expect. You know the ‘rules’ of success.

Consequently, particularly in my option subject teaching, where I get more time, a substantial part of lessons and learning come from doing practice exam questions and papers.

Yes, sometimes it is boring and I when I have piles and piles of papers to mark I wonder why I do it this way. But I do it because I believe it works. It is the right thing to do.

I once had an Ofsted inspector say to me “What’s the obsession with exams?” Other than nearly punching him for an utterly ridiculous question, holding back not slagging off the Government for things called ‘league tables’ it made me feel really bad. Should I not be doing this? Is it ‘wrong’ to prepare students for the thing that will determine 100% of their grade?

Some people might argue its ‘teaching to the test’ implying that that in some way that is wrong. So, yesterday’s session got me thinking what would make that wrong.

The implication is that if you teach to the test, there is no enjoyment, there is no real learning, you limit the breadth of knowledge for students and that you’re not teaching students to be ‘independent’.

I disagree. My student perception, feedback to my face and parental comments at parents evening tell me otherwise. many tell me it’s their favourite subject. They tell me they use the skills from my lesson in other subjects so they must have learnt something in order to transfer the skills.
An ex student emailed me from university. She told me that what we covered in the lessons formed part of her year 1 law degree and she had a huge advantage other her peers in terms of understanding. She also said she spent her time teaching them what I had taught her.
The teaching part of the course can be done in any way you want. That can be totally independent or teacher led. It can be book based or using videos. It doesn’t matter! It’s how you use the gained knowledge and skills that it important.

It would seem my teaching in this way doesn’t limit the students.

And finally to results. They’re fantastic. I teach year 10/11 students an AS level over two years. They’re an able cohort by definition. However, last year’s group achieved 70% A-C at AS level. In some cases these students did not even achieve a ‘C’ at GCSE level, including in core subjects.

So, if you were a Head teacher with knowledge of all of this teaching, learning and results in this subject in your school, what would you do with me/the subject?

Or maybe, I’m just totally wrong…….