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To Grade or Not to Grade?

What to Do About Grading Lessons

Judging individual lessons – to grade or not to grade? There has been a degree of publicity about whether Ofsted will be grading individual lessons and/or teachers, and what implications this has for schools in developing their own practices and processes for ensuring teaching is of consistently high quality, resulting in pupils attaining good standards and making good progress from their starting points. We are now beginning to get a finalised view.

Lesson observations without grades – the Ofsted approach

(Adapted from “Information for teachers about inspection: lesson observations” – Sept 2014.)

In June and July 2014, Ofsted piloted a new approach to recording evidence about the quality of teaching during school inspections. It has been agreed to take this approach in all school inspections from September 2014.

Inspectors will not grade the quality of teaching for individual lesson observations, learning walks or equivalent activities. Instead, inspectors will gather evidence from these sources and will use this to provide any feedback to teachers. Inspectors may also offer feedback in other ways, such as to groups of subject or key stage teachers.

Each inspector will then draw all the evidence they have gathered about teaching in the school into a summary, which will inform the inspection team’s joint discussion and judgement about the overall quality of teaching across the school.

There will be a variety of different approaches to observation, such as staying for a substantial amount of time, talking with particular groups of pupils in detail and reading their work in books over time, not just for that lesson.

The focus of inspectors is on the impact of teaching over time across the school and not on the performance of individual teachers.

What Should Schools Be Doing?

Does this mean we should never grade?

The first point to note is that making judgements and giving grades are not necessarily the same thing. Giving a grade is often not developmental, and all good processes for sustaining and developing good teaching are. Making a judgement is an integral part of development and, as such, fits into assessment for learning principles

The second point is that judgements should be based on sound, broad based evidence. Thus, it is difficult to make a judgement about the quality of teaching in a session if the only source of evidence is observation. There is a range of evidence available and it is important for leaders to use more than a single source to arrive at judgements and give developmental feedback. The range includes:

  • Data – especially that which shows progress of individuals and groups
  • Work scrutinies
  • Learning walks
  • Pupil Voice – gaining the views of pupils about their learning experience (both during and after)
  • Planning (be aware that planning is a statement of intent – not always what happens)

None of these sources give a sound basis for judgement in isolation but, when taken with others, any view will be much stronger.

Of course, schools will have to have a view, backed up by evidence, about the quality of teaching, and any trends evolving, at whole school, subject, phase, year group or even individual level. Not only should this inform Performance Management, any training and professional development activities but it will be looked at during inspection.

Thus it is important that schools have a secure process which keeps track of the quality of teaching, analyses strengths and areas for development and can demonstrate impact of actions. Being able to access this information instantly is obviously of further benefit to leaders.

Helpful Products

Lessons Learned – Teaching and Learning Development Module

Lessons Learned is an online system that allows your school to observe against your own framework, offering comprehensive grade descriptors as evidence for your chosen judgement. Because it is online you can save comments using an iPad or other tablet in real time during an observation. After discussion and agreement about any judgements and development points the results are then immediately saved on the school system.

Lessons Learned can be used for more than just observations. There are frameworks for planning scrutinies, book scrutinies and learning walks available to supplement observation evidence, and other evidence such as lesson plans, videos, etc can also be added, along with any useful links.

Find out more at


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