Friday, 20 March 2015

Boxing clever with observations in FE

In the left corner, we have graded observations - managerial responses to the accountability agenda.

In the right corner, we have developmental observations - effective methods of improving the quality of teaching.

Even Ofsted inspectors say that FE colleges do not have to grade their observations.

Yet grades provide data - and data is easier to deal with than people. A data-driven approach by FE senior managers is probably a response to:

  • draconian funding cuts from governments of all hues;
  • regulation overload;
  • the unremitting pace of change; and
  • policy roller coasters.

For example, the Association of Colleges has worked out that the average funding per student in HE is around £8,500; in schools, it’s £5,600. In FE, it’s £4,000 for 16-17 year olds, and £3,800 for 18 year olds and over.

At times like these, is it surprising that college managements resort to command and control, data production and managerialism?

In 2013, when Matt O’Leary completed his survey on observation practice in colleges for UCU, 83.5% of the FE lecturers who responded, said that they had experienced a graded observation.

But there are colleges with enlightened management who have replaced grades with, for instance, Learning Walks where colleagues can go into any class; audio recording professional discussions between observer and observee; asking teachers to self-assess using videos of their teaching; and supported experiments.

A great deal of work has gone into finding more participatory ways of working in FE to improve teaching and learning (Taylor 2009). Ros Ollin (2009) introduced self-assessment of grading and found that 80% of teacher trainees chose the same grade as their tutor; 10% thought their grade was higher than that of their tutor; and 10% thought their grade was lower than that of their tutor.

Although observation practice should be developmental, it has by its nature to involve judgement. It’s therefore essential for observers to be trained to collect evidence and to give feedback appropriately.

Dr Ann Lahiff at the IOE has been researching the ways that observations are conducted in FE colleges and the lessons that FE teacher educators can draw from this.

When I researched the professional development needs of new and experienced teacher educators, I found that they struggled most with the best ways to observe and give feedback – how to give challenging but constructive feedback. Feedback worth listening to and talking about.
Furlong and Maynard (1995) identify five stages of new teacher development: early idealism, personal survival, seeing the difficulties, hitting a plateau and moving on.

At any stage of a lecturer’s development, getting a ‘bad’ grade is demoralising and counter-productive. It is experienced as an attack on the person. Paradoxically an ‘outstanding’ grade can be counter-productive, making the recipient feel that they don’t have to try so hard as they are an ‘outstanding’ teacher. In both cases, the ‘snapshot’ and subjective nature of observation is ignored. 

Let’s move towards a new model. We’re worth it.

Furlong, J. and Maynard, T. (1995) Mentoring Student Teachers: the growth of professional knowledge, London: Routledge

Hatzipanagaos, S., Lygo-Baker, S. (2006) ‘Teaching observations: promoting development through critical reflection’ Journal of Further and Higher Education, 30:4 421-431

Taylor, L. (2009) Promoting the development of teaching and learning through a participatory observation model, Westminster Partnership CETT

O’Leary, M. (2013) Developing a national framework for the effective use of lesson observation in FE, UCU

Ollin, R. (2009) The final grading of of teaching observations: implications
for teacher educators in Higher Education partnerships, University of Huddersfield

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