Page Contents

  1. Introduction and some recommendations (in detail by the end of the ½ term hols)
  2. A summary of why lesson observations do not work (Prof. Rober Coe’s blog 2014)
  3. What is the future of lesson observation in our schools? (Part 1) both 2014
  4. What is the future of lesson observation in our schools? (Part 2)(is there a legal case against  them? - 3 speakers David Didau, an Ofsted Inspector, and Primary head at a school with no observations, instead using lesson conversations)
  5. [Research paper] Do We Know a Successful Teacher when We See One? Experiments in the Identification of Effective Teachers -2011
  6. TES: Ofsted's approach 'is not backed by research'. -2013
  7. Forbes magazine: Lesson Observations Are No Way To Grade Teachers -2014
  8. Beyond lesson observation grades? - An Ofsted inspectors view -2014
  9. How can we make classroom observation more effective? (David Didau)
  10. What really improves teacher quality?
  11. A Cognitive Model for Educators: Attention, Encoding, Storage, Retrieval

1. Introduction

  1. This area examines how and why lesson observations do not work, either to raise attainment or measure the effectiveness of the teacher. I’ve been surprised by the research evidence over the last year and like much of science it is counter intuitive, however nearly every area of science is based on counter intuitive discoveries. Such as floating spherical rocks that nothing falls off ,inhabited by life whose smallest parts were made from the exploded remains of dead stars.
  2. To do so I have drawn on two sources of evidence, the cognitive science theory of how the mind learns and the research summaries of Professor Robert Coe at the University of Durham.
  3. In short there is no correlation between the observation judgements of more than one observer and the students value added scores in controlled tests.

    The research shows that lesson observations are unreliable and invalid in coming to a judgement as to whether learning has occurred. Hence Professor Coe, and the think tanks Policy Exchange and specifically Civitas recommend the end of graded lesson observations by Ofsted and schools prior to July 2014.  
  4. Here are the key errors (myths) extracted from Prof.Coe’s blog post below.

[4.1] That Learning is visible (this error appears to originate with Hattie’s book called Visible Learning and others, who claimed that teaching is about making learning visible).
If it was visible then by watching the student rather than the teacher and seeing proxies for learning such as if they are attentive, engaged, responding to feedback, calm, whilst the content is covered and answering correctly then learning should occur. However the research shows that there is no correlation between some or all of these and learning occurring, and that learning may not have occurred at all despite the proxies presence.

Instead learning is not visible, as it is recall from long term memory independently and in a different context within the same domain’s subject - topic. In a lesson short term memory is used to process the new knowledge prior to using repetition through deliberate practice to shift it into long term memory. So neither understanding (short term memory) or learning (long term memory) can be made visible in a lesson observation. They need long periods of time and testing under controlled conditions to be made visible usually symbolically in writing, verbally or via demonstration. (This should not be confused with the false theory of VAK learning styles).  

[4.22] If the observer  is a teacher then they will know what to look for that is effective. Observers are unable to demonstrate a correlation between their identification of good teaching and / or feedback and a rise in value added scores for students.  

[4.3] Observation allows you to see the whole or a great deal of what is going on. We think we observe effective teaching when we look for it , but we do not observe as much as we like to think we do when we are focused on looking for something specific, even with substantial training and experience. See this clip for an example.













[4.4]. That each person learns differently (is not true), see video here, and article here to quote the Cognitive scientist Daniel Wallingham ‘’good teaching is good teaching and teachers don’t need to adjust their teaching to students learning styles”.  

Instead they should teach the way human beings actually learn, see here. This is because we are almost genetically identical “humans are 99.9% similar to any other humans” (see here)  and that other distinctions such races have never existed they are a myth (here).The whole approach should be based on Cognitive neuroscience see here.

  1. There is extremely poor correlation between student performance in classroom activities and long term retention and transfer of skills and knowledge. Ofsted’s “rapid and sustained progress” given what we know from cognitive science is not possible, it is either rapid and not sustained or slow and is sustained, the latter is preferable.  
  2. Here are Professor Robert Coe’s solutions

[5.1] “Stop assuming that untrained observers can either make valid judgements or provide feedback that improves anything

[5.2] Apply a critical research standard and the best existing knowledge to the process of developing, implementing and validating observation protocols

[5.3] Ensure that good evidence supports any uses or interpretations we make for observations. It follows that appropriate caveats around the limits of such uses should be clearly stated and the use should not go beyond what is justified

[5.4] Undertake robustly evaluated research to investigate how feedback from lesson observation might be used to improve teaching quality (EEF already has one such study underway).”

[Professor Robert Coe. (2014). Classroom observation: it’s harder than you think. Available: http://54.72.152.175/blog/ Last accessed 19.10.14.]

  1. What should we do? - Observations should be ungraded and formative

[6.1a] Manage retrieval over time (also known as the The PiXL approach) Each topic should have a formative pre-test of relevant prior knowledge (this includes skills) followed by a sequence of lessons to remedy deficiencies and a summative test done to confirm success.

[6.1b] Then the topic should be taught and formative and summative tests with gap analysis used to identify and remedy misconceptions.

[6.1c] Any tier of tests [whether foundation or higher] should have a minimum pass mark of an A grade equivalent (70%) to minimise misconceptions. If you focus on the students target grade which is less than 70% then they have insufficient knowledge and skills and cascade misconceptions into subsequent topics until their actual attainment is low. For some students the foundation exam is more appropriate if their target grades for 3+ lop are C or below.

[6.2] Self and peer assessment to maximise the effectiveness of these AfL principles they should be used in formative and summative tests, apart from perhaps tests for termly reports. Students need to become familiar with the concision used in mark schemes. Some mark schemes may have to be re-written in a student legible way, but they should be used.

[6.3] Curriculum design each subject / topic/ unit should have dedicated re-visiting time  (depending on the original topic length) to aid the development of long term memory. This is called ‘interleaving’ in the research.

Given the massive content relative to other subjects Science* and perhaps Geography and History face difficult decisions regarding starting points for some topics and it may be better (legal coverage of National Curriculum permitting) to shift some ks3 topics entirely into ks4 to free time.

*(for example for any GCSE student taking additional higher or foundation would need to cover approximately 300+ topics from ks3 to ks4 if they were to use the three CGP revision guides at a topic per page. This would be 400+ topics if they take triple science. (This does not include essay and cwk guides). See here for the contents of one of the books.

At present the gap between a topic being re-taught in detail from ks3 to ks4 is so large that long term memory is not developed and the more complex topics have to be re-taught at ks4 almost, if not entirely from scratch.

Instead key topics should be revisited every couple of months, for example in chemistry at ks3 this would mean atoms, elements, compounds, molecules and mixtures, writing and balancing equations. For skills in physics or maths this would include re-arranging equations. Subject domain skills might cover plotting and analysing graphs

[6.4] Feedback from an observation should be ungraded, formative and tabulated to clearly and separately identify:

[6.4a] what feedback is based on solid scientific research with the relevant theory identified (research papers backing this should be made accessible to staff, given that they are post graduates this is a professional and necessary courtesy)  and

[6.4b] what feedback is anecdotal based on experience and possibly worth trying, un-evidenced theories should not be included, however personal experience should be included as teacher’s knowledge and personal insight do have value.

So this may include the use of routines for classroom management, assessment etc. (To contents)








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5. [Research paper] Do We Know a Successful Teacher When We See One? -2011  (To contents)


2. A summary of why lesson observations do not work -2014  (To contents)


3. What is the future of lesson observation in our schools? (Part 1) -2014 - His powerpoint is here
(To contents)


4. What is the future of lesson observation in our schools? (Part 2) -2014 (To contents)


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6. "Critics should not have to prove Ofsted’s judgements are wrong; it should be up to Ofsted to prove they are right"did.  (Click here for page) (To contents)



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“Lesson Observations - The New Brain Gym?“
From Prof Coe’s video’s presentation title below

7. Lesson Observations Are No Way To Grade Teachers (To contents)



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8. Beyond lesson observation grades? -Ofsted inspectors view (To contents)



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9. How can we make classroom observation more effective? (To contents)



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10. What really improves teacher quality? (To contents)



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