Educating UK

Observations of Teaching and Learning

Observations of Teaching and Learning

At Educating UK, we are one of only a handful of training providers approved to offer the accredited TQUK qualification, the Level 5 Certificate in Observation of Teaching and Learning (QCF).

This qualification is vital for qualified and experienced teachers, trainers, assessors and line managers who undertake observations of teaching or training sessions. The qualification develops the skills and knowledge needed to undertake lesson observations. It covers a range of topics including different types of observations, judgement criteria, observation protocols, giving observation feedback and moderation procedures.

This article will consider the purpose and types of different lesson observations.

The Purpose of Observations

The purpose of undertaking observations of teaching and learning is to ensure that high standards are maintained within a school, college or training provider. Undertaking an observation is a useful way to determine the standard and quality of delivery, teaching, learning and assessment a provider offers.

Observations are also a good way to assess the skills, competencies and attitudes of a teacher. They can identify areas of good practice and areas which may need developing. CPD and training activities can also be implemented from the outcomes of observations.

The type of observation a provider uses can depend on a range of factors such as; the preference of managers within the provider, the culture of the provider and what the provider is hoping to gain from the observation i.e. trends or themes.

Observations must be undertaken following a set of criteria or standards. These criteria or standards will enable an observer to know exactly what they should be judging a teacher on during the observation.

Most providers will use the standards set by Ofsted within the Common Inspection Framework (CIF). The CIF lists the grading criteria from grade one to grade four, that a teacher can achieve. The four grade boundaries are:

  • Grade One- Outstanding
  • Grade Two – Good
  • Grade Three – Requires Improvements (formerly Satisfactory)
  • Grade Four – Inadequate.

There are a number of different types of lesson observations, these include:

  • Graded observations (Quality)
  • Un-graded observations (Developmental)
  • Peer observations
  • Learning Walks

Quality/ Graded Observations

Quality/ Graded observations are often formal, with the observer giving no or very little notice of the time and date an observation is to take place. A provider may use this type of observation in order to see a snapshot of how a lesson is usually delivered, especially if a teacher is given no notice of the observation taking place.

Graded observations are conducted to establish the standard and quality of teaching and learning taking place within a provider. Often ‘outstanding’ teachers are used as beacons of good practice within a provider, and are required to mentor teachers who receive lower grades during their observations. This sharing of good practice is seen as a way to develop teachers’ skills and competencies and to encourage quality improvements, which are then reflected in learner achievement rates.

Graded observations enable a provider to measure the capabilities of their employees, as the observation grades are judgements on their performance in a lesson. Observation grades can be used during appraisals or when setting objectives with employees. Targets can be set, which are often linked to pay rises and bonuses.

The use of graded observations was common practice for many years in education, however, Ofsted have now stopped using grading of individual teachers during Ofsted inspections, and instead now give a provider an overall grade for teaching and learning. They no longer highlight the grade of each individual teacher.

In October 2014 Ofsted confirmed that they “do not expect” providers to grade lesson observations. Ofsted published information to explain this decision. They stated that the process of un-graded observations encourages a stronger focus on learning than teaching.

‘Grading observations could only be about the lesson snap-shot and that led to a focus on teacher-performance during an observation. Learning is long term; without grading, the discussions are about the whole process – what goes before, what follows and how a lesson fits into a big picture.  Grading could never meaningfully capture that’. Ofsted (2015).

The move away from graded observations has come from the recognition of a number of limitations with the use of graded observations. A major limitation with graded observations is that teachers focus on the actual grade they receive for an observation, rather than on any developmental feedback they are given by the observer. This means that teachers were not reflecting on developmental points or taking on board any areas that require improvements within their practice.

A teacher may hear they are ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and assume there is no need to improve upon their performance or consider implementing any of the development points they have been given.

Teachers given ‘satisfactory’ grades, may focus on the ‘grade three’ label rather than focus on what they can do to improve their performance.

Grading observations have also shown to increase stress for teachers and research suggests they do not necessarily improve teaching, learning or assessment activities.

Developmental/ Un-Graded Observations

Un-graded observations are becoming more popular within schools, colleges and training providers. The focus on un-graded observations is feedback, developmental points and actions to improve teaching and learning. The feedback given by the observer is more important than the grade the teacher would have previously been given. By not giving a grade after an observation, a teacher can be encouraged to analyse, critique and reflect on the feedback they have been given and in turn, reflect on their practice.

However, the use of graded observations is ingrained with some teachers as the ‘way things have always been done’, and they still prefer to receive a grade for their observation. A teacher may still like to know the level at which they are performing at in, the form of a specific grade.

Learning Walks

Another model of observation is a learning walk. A learning walk is when an observer only observes a session for 10-15 minutes and focuses on a specific aspect or theme, such as equality and diversity, assessment practice or differentiation.

Learning Walk observations should:

  • last approximately 15 minutes
  • have a specific focus or theme
  • observe policy application, implementation and effectiveness.

Walk through observations should not:

  • be graded for individuals
  • provide information for the assessment of individuals’ performance, rather it should inform performance of teams, departments and the effectiveness of management policies.
  • be a fishing expedition to find something wrong.

Learning walks are a useful model if there are a large number of staff within a provider. The observation team can observe all staff due to the short time frame of the observation. Learning walks can be used if there is a particular aspect, issue or topic that needs to be reviewed within a provider. For example, if a provider feels that the start of lessons need improving or they wish to know how well equality and diversity is promoted with learners, they could focus on these themes within the learning walks. Learning walks do not cover a teaching session in as much detail as perhaps graded or un-graded observations do.

However, it can be argued that the time frame of an observation undertaken as part of a learning walk does not enable sufficient evidence to be observed to support the overall judgement of the teaching and learning session.

Peer Observations

The final model of observations to consider are peer observations. Peer observations are when teachers are observed by their peers, rather than a senior manager or line

manager, as often happens with the three models discussed previously. Peer observations can also be undertaken with two peers, so there are two observers in a session.

Peer observations can be formal or informal. They can support a teacher in their development by gaining feedback from their peers. They can also support continuous improvements within a provider and share good practice amongst team members, with observers picking up hints and tips from the teacher during their delivery session.

Undertaking peer observations can also be a good developmental tool for trainee observers, by shadowing trained observers and learning the process of undertaking observations.

When undertaking a peer observations, it is vital the observer remains impartial and offers fair and constructive feedback to the teacher. Observing a peer can sometimes be difficult if feedback given contains developmental points. Peers often find it difficult to critique a colleague’s performance. The observer must ensure they do not let personal relationships with those they are observing impact on the observation feedback they give.

Impact and Approaches

When undertaking observations, it is vital that the observers approach is professional, encouraging and supportive. If an issue is identified during an observation, the observer must explain this in their feedback to the teacher and explain how they will be support them in rectifying the issue and improving their teaching practice. When an issue is identified, it is vital the observer offer examples of how the teacher can improve and not just highlight the issue and offer no further support.

An observer must never leave a teacher feeling overwhelmed with what they need to improve on, with no idea of how go about implementing the improvement.

For more information regarding the accredited TQUK Level 5 Certificate in Observation of Teaching and Learning (QCF) visit