A guest post for the Teacher Development Trust by Micon Metcalfe (@miconm),  Director of Finance and Business at Dunraven School. She is a Specialist Leader of Education.

There’s been a really interesting debate on twitter & in the blogosphere this week about graded lesson observations and how Ofsted determine the quality of teaching during an inspection.

It seems so simple doesn’t it? The panacea of non graded lessons and a collective judgement on the quality of teaching in a school. However there’s a whole raft of regulation, pay and conditions, local agreements and school policies to wade through in order to get there. Some schools are well on their way with the policy detail and I would recommend reading the blogs of John Tomsett , Tom Sherrington and Liam Collins in the state sector and  Mark S Steed in the independent sector to get a sense of what some schools are doing.

There are three areas that are interlinked and need to be considered and understood together in order to change the culture of lesson observation and grading in a school. This post aims to outline the policy/regulatory framework and what schools need to do to meet these and have a fair and consensual approach to assessing teaching quality.

The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012

These came into force in September 2012 and apply to teachers in all maintained schools & the government indicated that new academy funding agreements would refer to them too. They require head teachers to set objectives for every teacher which will, if met, contribute to improving the education of pupils at that school and contribute to any plan for improving the school’s educational provision and performance. Furthermore performance must be assessed against the relevant Teacher Standards  . A school must have a policy setting out how it will carry out teacher appraisal and this will be that which the governing board has adopted. Whilst there may be a locally agreed and adopted policy it is up to individual schools. The DfE has published a model policy , as there is a joint  model policy from the NUT, ATL and NAHT.  The NUT and NASUWT have also produced a lesson observation protocol that they would like schools to adopt.

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document 2013

Effective September 2013 (with the first pay decisions 2014) this applies to all maintained schools and is adopted by a number of academies. Paragraph 22 explicitly deals with pay progression linked to performance. Pay decisions must relate to a teacher’s performance as assessed through the school’s appraisal arrangements and must have regard to the pay recommendation in the appraisal report. Furthermore pay decisions must be clearly attributable to the performance of the teacher in question and the school must set out clearly in its pay policy how salary progression will be determined.

Like appraisal policies it is for school governors to determine the policy but model policies can be found with the NUT/NASUWT model policy here and the DfE’s here . It’s clear that the union strove for a policy which closely mirrors the 2012 terms and conditions with pay progression at all levels taking place unless serious concerns have been raised. They want only appraisal information to be used. The DfE have appendices of types of performance measure ranging from absolute, relative or a combination of both performance measures. There is also an expectation that the highest performing teachers can progress more quickly.


Mike Cladingbowl published useful information about lesson observations and assessing the quality of teaching on the Ofsted  website . However it is also important to look at the  School Inspection Handbook Requires . To assess teaching quality inspectors must be ‘guided by the response and engagement of pupils’ and inspectors direct observations must be ‘supplemented by a range of other evidence’. For leadership and management inspectors must assess the school’s use of performance management and effectiveness of strategies for improving teaching, the effectiveness of procedures for monitoring quality of teaching and learning and the extent to which underperformance is tackled. Furthermore inspectors will assess a ‘strong link between performance management, appraisal and salary progression’ and the accuracy with which best practice is identified, modelled and shared.


These three aspects are inextricably linked yet have all appeared and been refined at different times. The new teacher standards appeared in 2011, the Appraisal Regulations in 2012 and the STPCD in 2013. As far as I can tell the Ofsted framework is a moveable feast – but in part inspects and reports on how well schools have implemented the first two policy drivers. Many schools developed new appraisal and capability procedures first and pay policies second. It is difficult to see how they cannot be developed together. The desire to minimise workload for teachers has led to some model policies on both appraisal and pay that, if implemented, would have very limited scope and possibly would not develop the strong link between performance management, appraisal and pay that Ofsted are required to report on.

Few of the model policies above explicitly refer to graded lessons – although Ofsted’s Inspection Handbook has criteria against which the quality of teaching overall will be judged and the DfE gives an example of lesson quality as an absolute performance measure. Appraisal and lesson observations should be developmental and it would seem sensible that appraisal should refer to the teaching standards and wider agreed factors.  However some of the model documentation (in particular from teaching unions) would like only that information gathered from formal Performance Management/Appraisal meetings used. This could at its worst limit the information available to 3 objectives and no more than three lesson observations.

To get this really right, schools need to look at their Appraisal and Salary Policies together and agree what defines good and better teaching in the school and what evidence would demonstrate this. In order to meet the accountability framework this must take account of pupil progress and achievement and be able to identify best practice and that which requires challenge and support to improve. Of course, such policies will need consultation with staff and recognised unions and agreement by governors. They are school specific – which makes it harder for Ofsted to do their job  – so Governors and school leaders really do need to be able to articulate the rationale that underpins them and why they are successful in driving the quality of teaching and educational outcomes for pupils.

A final thought is that using numbers and grades is easier and perhaps this is why they have persisted. It is quicker and it means less work for everyone. Numbers and percentages lend a semblance of fairness and transparency – and indeed certainty to outcomes. If absolute performance measures are used a teacher will know precisely whether objectives have been met (notwithstanding the problematic nature of grading a lesson). At the heart of this is the tension between workload, what role teachers can and should play in self assessment of performance (including development needs) and pupil progress and also the need for some subjectivity in application. For policies that use different measures to work well, there needs to be agreement on expectations – which inevitably means in put in time and resources from both employer and employee.

Minor amendments made 20:59 23rd Feb, for clarity.