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Lesson Observation

**This advice should be read in conjunction with the national action instructions on lesson observation in the industrial action section**

Lesson Observation

Instruction 2: Members are instructed not to participate in any form of management-led classroom observation in any school which refuses to operate a policy of a limit of a total of three observations for all purposes within a total time of up to three hours per year.

The only exceptions to the above are observations carried out by Ofsted inspectors as part of a Section 5 or Section 8 inspection of the school.

Instruction 3: Members are instructed not to carry out classroom observation in any school which refuses to accept that there will be a limit of a total of three observations for all purposes within a total time of up to three hours per year.

Instruction 4: Members are instructed not to organise or co-operate with any arrangements which involve pupils commenting on, or observing the work of, teachers or being involved in decision making about teachers’ roles, responsibilities, pay or promotion.

Instruction 5: Members should refuse to be observed teaching by anyone who does not have qualified teacher status (QTS).

OFSTED Inspection

Ofsted inspection of Initial Teacher Training and the observation of former trainees

Ofsted places a great deal of emphasis on lesson observation and on involving school leaders in the inspection process. Inspectors are likely to invite school leaders to participate in joint lesson observations.

Ofsted guidance makes it clear that lesson observations should enable inspectors to judge the accuracy of the school’s evaluation of teaching and learning. Ofsted guidance says that the key objectives of lesson observations are to evaluate the quality of learning and the contribution of teaching.

Lesson observation should focus on issues identified in the pre-inspection briefing with senior staff or from early inspection activity. Observations will include gathering evidence on how well particular groups of pupils and individual pupils are learning. Inspectors should use evidence from lesson observations to make detailed and specific recommendations to improve teaching and learning and make judgements about outcomes for pupils, provision and aspects of leadership and management.

Inspectors may use a range of strategies for observations, including part-lesson observations of 25 to 30 minutes, tracking of a class or group of pupils to assess pupils’ experience of a school day or part of a day, long observations of an hour or more, and/or short visits to a number of lessons.

Any of these observation strategies may be carried out jointly with the headteacher/senior member of staff. Guidance to inspectors makes it clear that a joint observation between the inspector and a member of the senior management should only take place if the teacher agrees to being jointly observed.

Inspectors should work to a protocol for feedback arrangements that the lead inspector has explained to the school. Inspectors must be proactive in offering feedback to teachers. Inspectors should provide teachers with feedback for all observations of 25 minutes or more. They may also provide feedback for observations of less than 25 minutes. For example, short reading/phonics sessions. Inspectors should explain the arrangements for feedback to the teacher prior to, or shortly after, the observation.

Feedback should address the main strengths and weaknesses of the activity observed, focusing on:

  • pupils’ learning and the teacher’s contribution to it;
  • the quality of what was seen;
  • how it could be improved.

Where possible inspectors should comment on:

  • the context and content of the lesson ;
  • where it fits into a sequence or programme of lessons;
  • other teaching and learning activities that the teacher uses;
  • professional development experience related to teaching;
  • the extent to which leaders monitor teaching and provide pedagogical guidance and support for teachers;
  • the nature and impact of performance management.

Inspectors are expected to provide a grade for lessons that they observe. In the case of short observations, the grade should be given for those aspects of them that are possible to evaluate.

Ofsted advice to inspectors states explicitly that the judgement about the quality of teaching in the school must not be based predominantly on the teaching grades given in lesson observations. Inspectors must consider the typical features of teaching in the school, including the strengths and areas for development, and should use the evaluation schedule to guide their judgements.

NASUWT advice

Teachers cannot refuse to be observed. However, Ofsted advice to inspectors makes it clear that teachers must not be placed under pressure to be jointly observed. NASUWT Representatives need to be alert to the possibility that pressure may be placed on teachers to be jointly observed and should remind members of their rights.

An inspector’s judgement of a teacher’s teaching and its impact on learning relates only to what has been observed during the course of the lesson. It is not a judgement about the quality and effectiveness of their teaching in general. The judgement must not be used to make judgements about the performance of an individual teacher. For example, the school must not use Ofsted inspection judgements about the quality of teaching and its impact on learning to begin, or to support, capability proceedings against an individual teacher.

The NASUWT has received feedback that some inspectors limit the length of lesson observations so that they do not need to provide feedback to teachers. The Union believes that inspectors should always try to give feedback to teachers who have been observed. This enables the teacher to establish the rationale for an inspector’s judgement and may be important if a teacher disagrees with the judgement. NASUWT Representatives should contact the NASUWT if they have evidence that an inspector appears to be limiting the time of observations so that they do not need to give feedback to teachers.

Lesson observations that are not part of an inspection

Lesson observations that are not part of an inspection should link to performance management. The performance management cycle should begin with a planning review meeting, and arrangements for lesson observations should be agreed at this meeting.

Individual teachers should be subject to no more than three hours’ lesson observation during the course of the academic year.[1] There is no requirement for all or any of the three hours’ lesson observation to be used. The amount and focus of the lesson observation should be discussed at the planning review meeting. The amount should be proportionate to the individual’s need.

Lesson observations should be recorded in a way that supports professional dialogue and exchange. It is not appropriate for lessons to be graded. Such an approach is simplistic and ignores the importance of a holistic approach to performance management. Ofsted has made it clear that it does not require schools to grade individual lessons using the Ofsted grading system.

The data collected through lesson observations should be used to inform the school’s evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning and school improvement planning.

There is evidence that Ofsted inspection is being used by schools to trigger or justify increased use of lesson observation. There should be no increase in the number of lesson observations in schools to satisfy inspection. All observations should take place within the three-hour limit.

Whilst schools need to respond to the recommendations arising from the inspection report, this should not result in a school automatically initiating additional lesson observations as part of their post-Ofsted follow-up arrangements. The three-hour observation limit still applies.

Learning walks and drop-ins

The NASUWT regards ‘learning walks’ to be lesson observations. Teachers should only be observed in accordance with their performance management planning statement. Teachers should not agree to any observations, including learning walks, that are not in their statement or that take them over the three-hour lesson observation limit.

A headteacher has a duty to evaluate the standards of teaching and learning and has a right to use ‘drop-ins’ to inform their monitoring of the quality of learning. Where the headteacher genuinely operates a drop-in of a few minutes and this does not involve formal observation of teaching but focuses on pupils’ learning, it would not be classed as a lesson observation. However, if the headteacher focuses on the teacher or makes notes on the teacher’s performance or uses the visit for any other purpose the visit would be classed as a lesson observation.


Ofsted no longer maintains a standard school SEF. Schools are expected to identify and use their own approach to self-evaluation. Ofsted will look at how the school uses self-evaluation to develop and improve. Ofsted says that the quality of the self-evaluation is an indicator of calibre of the school’s leaders and managers and the school’s capacity to improve.

Schools may provide the lead inspector with a summary of their self-evaluation. The summary should provide a brief evaluation of evidence, summarise outcomes and outline the impact of what has been done and areas where improvements are planned.

NASUWT advice

It is important that self-evaluation is not burdensome or bureaucratic. School leaders should ensure that their school self-evaluation practice draws together school improvement planning, performance management and audit, and that it supports effective teaching and learning. School self-evaluation should not be an additional process and it should not involve additional monitoring and evaluation, including classroom observation. It should not involve teachers undertaking additional responsibilities or require them to be subject to any additional processes or meetings.

There is a danger that school self-evaluation is seen as an extension of the inspection process. Also, the short notice of inspection places school leaders under pressure to establish systems of monitoring that effectively amount to continuous self-evaluation, thereby increasing the workloads of teachers and other staff. It is important that this does not happen. Self-evaluation should support school improvement.

Self-evaluation should address all aspects of school life. It should include an evaluation of how well the school supports and develops high-quality teaching and learning. This should include an assessment of whether the school ensures that teachers receive their contractual entitlements to working conditions that enable them to focus on teaching and learning and how well teachers are supported and enabled to exercise their professional autonomy.

It is important that teachers are consulted and that school leaders take account of teachers’ views as part of the self-evaluation process. The evaluation should assess the extent to which teachers and workforce unions are engaged in wider planning and decision making within the school.

The record of any self-evaluation, including the summary report, should not include information about individual staff or information that allows staff to be identified.

NASUWT Representatives should monitor the school’s self-evaluation procedures in order to monitor the accuracy of statements on workforce provisions and whether all teachers have access and an entitlement to high-quality CPD.

If teachers, school leaders or Representatives have evidence about non compliance with workforce provisions or if there is other evidence that the evaluation does not take account of the issues affecting staff or it does not reflect their views and needs, then they should raise their concerns with the headteacher. If they believe that the headteacher does not intend to take appropriate action to address the issues identified, then they should contact the NASUWT as a matter of urgency to obtain further advice and support.

Wales - Classroom Observation

A ground-breaking agreement has been reached with the Welsh Government on a guidance document on classroom observation which addresses teachersʼ concerns about punitive performance management and excessive classroom observation. The document, ʻClassroom Observation: Purpose and Protocols’, is soon to be published on the Welsh Governmentʼs website, and will be included in the updated version of the NASUWTʼs ʻPerformance Management: A Practical Guide for Appraisees and Appraisers’.