REVEALED: Pupil interviews replace lesson observations for judging teaching quality

Pupil interviews are replacing graded lesson observations so senior leaders can judge teaching ability, Schools Week has learned.

One London school is putting observers in lessons to watch how some children learn before interviewing them afterwards.

A teacher at the school, who did not want to be named, said underperforming pupils were often chosen, and the outcome was used to judge the teacher’s ability.

The practice drew criticism on Twitter, with one teacher calling it “Orwellian”, although the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said pupil interviews were a useful form of school self-evaluation.

The teacher, who blogged about the experience, wrote: “My biggest fear is that this is another thing, another layer of monitoring, another initiative taking me away from planning and delivering the stuff the kids need.”

She also said interviews could become a popularity contest or tempt teachers to cheat the system by prepping pupils.

Observers asked questions including “what have you been learning?”, “how does the teacher help you?” and “what do you find hard in this subject?”

The teacher later told Schools Week the process had both positives and negatives.

“The need for a performance observation lesson is gone . . . I also do really like the idea of looking at student learning, rather than delivery.”

But she said younger or lower-ability pupils were “invariably targeted” and could be “less aware of the learning, less focused and often less thoughtful before they answer.

“I worry that my teaching is being judged entirely on what a child has to say about it.”

She said more schools now used pupil interviews instead of graded observation lessons, which Ofsted ditched last year over reliability concerns.

However, Schools Week recently reported that heads were still held accountable for the quality of teaching in schools, with a regional commissioner last month asking for evidence that a certain percentage of teaching was good or better.

Dawn Jones, a head of year who read the blog, tweeted in response: “This is utter nonsense. [It] saddens me. This is not business – kids are not the customer.”

Christine Blower (pictured above), general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that such “snapshot” impressions of lessons – whether on interviews or test data – could not be used to judge the quality of a lesson.

“Attempts to do so risk turning our schools into exam factories, and they ignore deeper learning and valuable learning experiences.”

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of ASCL, said schools have used pupil learning interviews for years. Their purpose was “entirely different from that of lesson observations.

“They are an informative and useful form of school self-evaluation designed to understand the learning experience from the pupils’ viewpoint.”

He said schools also used learning walks and pupil trails: “The feedback and insight gathered is useful in identifying how pupils can be helped to do as well as possible.”

School improvement consultant Gareth Balch, writing for school support provider The Key, said assessing pupils’ understanding of learning was a way to monitor progress across the school.

The Key provides example pupil questionnaires for schools to use on the quality of teaching and learning, as do advice groups such as the Lancashire Grid for Learning.

However, the support service said it had no evidence the interviews were being used instead of graded lesson observations. They were more as a source of evidence in appraisal.

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  1. Maybe pupils should be given score cards which they hold up at the end of the lesson. The 2 teachers who get the lowest score at the end of the week could be in a “teach off” with a panel deciding on which teacher to save and which teacher to fire. At the end of the year the teacher with the highest score could win a prize. We could call it “Strict Ones Leave Teaching”.

    No wonder there is a teacher recruitment crisis! What has happened to our once honourable profession?

    How about training skilled graduates as teachers, valuing them, supporting them, and letting them act as professionals? They could spend their time on teaching students and passing on their love of learning. Now that’s an idea.