Skip to content

Meeting the New Ofsted Criteria for Lesson Observation

The new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework (EIF) comes into effect this month. Ofsted have published an explanatory document related specifically to lesson observation and how it will be used in the new inspections – “an important inspection method within an inspector’s toolkit”.

Purpose of Observation and the Observation Model

Ofsted recognise that classrooms are complex environments and to try and capture everything that goes on is neither possible nor desirable. They also know that lesson observation is only one tool among a range of evaluation methods for measuring teacher effectiveness and that evidence should be triangulated to make informed assessments.

The initial methodology developed for inspection observations contained eighteen indicators (the full list is towards the end of this blog), and lesson visits, as Ofsted are now calling them, were planned to last 15 to 30 minutes in length.

The indicators were tested in a range of schools (22) and colleges (15).

What the Trial Found

Validity and Reliability

Evidence suggested that valid assessments were able to be made using the observation model.

Observers were able to judge which indicators proved to be most or least useful. There was some evidence that the range was too large and could cause “observer cognitive overload”. A reduction in the number of indicators may lead to a more consistent approach and therefore a more robust judgement.

In judging validity, observers scored behaviour indicators more strongly than those for teaching and the curriculum (which replicates the pattern found in most observation models).

Data suggested that longer observations tended to lead to greater reliability.

Multiple Observers

All the evidence from international studies suggests that multiple (can be two) observers are more effective if the model is aimed at teacher development rather than a judgemental assessment model.

Number of Lessons

Reliability is linked to the number of lessons seen. One-time observations are open to error. A greater number of observations is required when a teacher is receiving developmental feedback rather than being simply “evaluated”.

There was also some evidence that the time of day and even point in the year can influence observer ratings, again making multiple observations beneficial in giving a more comprehensive picture of a teacher’s practice.

This may well have implications during inspection if inspectors are to visit teachers more than once. Certainly, schools should again be taking this into account when developing their own model. It will require that leadership develop a culture of improvement where teachers see the observation process as something which contributes to their entitlement as professional learners rather than something done to them without a developmental purpose.

Subject Specific or Generic

There is still some lack of agreement about whether indicators should be generic or subject specific. The Ofsted view is that, for them, subject specific indicators prove too difficult because of the need for an increase in training needs and subject experts.

Even within a generic model Ofsted already recognise the need for high-quality initial training for observers in order to ensure the continued reliability of judgements.

The Most Useful Indicators

Analysis of the trial results showed that there were a reduced number of indicators with a high level of reliability overall. Those with low reliability were mainly because they are aspects of a lesson which are hard to assess with a secure level of consistency. There were some differences between primary and secondary schools and particularly colleges.

Overall, the following eight were those identified as having higher levels of reliability and these will be those prioritised by Ofsted in developing further pilot visits before final agreement and inclusion within the EIF. The reduction would also mitigate against cognitive overload.

The core eight are:

Curriculum Domain

  • Teachers use their subject expertise to provide effective learning opportunities.
  • The lesson content is appropriate to the age group and does not lower expectations.
  • There is a logical sequence to the lesson.

Teaching Domain

  • Teachers demonstrate good communication skills.
  • Teachers possess good questioning skills.
  • Teachers give explicit, detailed and constructive feedback in class.

Behaviour Domain

  • Teachers create supportive classrooms focused on learning.
  • Pupils’ behaviour contributes to the focus on learning.

NB There is no weighting given to any element.

Scoring Within the Trial

A five-point scale was used by inspectors in the trial, firstly to avoid reference to current judgements and secondly to increase the variability possibilities in scoring. This again will be a part of the further trialing.

5 4 3 2 1 N/A
This aspect is embedded in practice (many examples of exceptional teaching) This aspect is embedded with minor points for development (leaders taking action to remedy minor shortfalls) This aspect is sufficient but there are some weaknesses overall in a number of examples (identified by leaders but not yet remedying) Major weaknesses evident (leaders have not identified or started to remedy weaknesses) This aspect is absent in practice Unable to score this indicator as not observed in the time provided


The model is designed to contribute to school-level evaluation rather than evaluation of a single teacher, and in that way to sit alongside the assessment of the curriculum and impact more effectively on the judgement of the quality of education.

This means that the subject or department (or similar) is the key unit of interest under which lesson visits will be carried out. This is known as the “deep dive”.

The aim of the “deep dive” is to allow inspectors to gather evidence to form an accurate evaluation of how education flows from intention to implementation and finally to impact within a school. In primary schools inspectors will always undertake this in reading as well as one or more foundation subjects. This will always include a subject being taught in school at the time inspectors are on-site. Inspectors will also often include mathematics in the “deep dive”. For secondary schools the “deep dive” will typically focus on a sample of between four and six subjects, with the aim of looking at a wide variety of pupils in differing year groups across that sample.

This will place a much closer focus on subject leaders or department heads. They will be key players in any inspection and need to have a very clear idea of the position and direction of travel of their subject, along with the evidence to back up judgements. There are implications for schools being much more focused on the processes and outcomes of self-evaluation and being able to demonstrate the monitoring, evaluation, action, impact cycle being a part of everyday practice.

Our Online Tool for Recording and Analysing Lesson Visits

However you choose to carry out your Lesson Observations or Lesson Visits going forward, our online tool can help you record and analyse them with ease. Forms can be custom built to match your own framework, or you can choose to use our comprehensive framework which incorporates the new Ofsted criteria.


Add comments, select relevant descriptors and assign judgements using customisable forms on Lessons Learned.
To book a free, no-obligations online demo click here.

The Original Indicators


  • Teachers use subject expertise, knowledge and practical skills to provide learning opportunities
  • Teachers ensure there is an equality of opportunity for all learners to access every lesson, as building blocks to the wider curriculum
  • Strategies to support reading/vocabulary understanding/numeracy are in place for pupils who need it/cannot access the curriculum
  • The content of the lesson is suitably demanding
  • The lesson content is appropriate to the age group and does not lower expectations
  • There is a logical sequence to the lesson
  • Teachers provide opportunities to recall and practise previously learned skills and knowledge
  • Assessment provides relevant, clear and helpful information about the current skills and knowledge of learners


  • Teachers demonstrate good communication skills
  • Teachers’ use of presentation allows pupils to build knowledge and make connections
  • Teachers use relevant and appropriate resources during presentation to clarify meaning to pupils
  • Teachers possess good questioning skills
  • Teachers give explicit, detailed and constructive feedback in class
  • Teachers effectively check for understanding


  • Teachers create supportive classrooms focused on learning
  • Teachers create focused classrooms through their high expectations for pupils
  • Teachers communicate clear and consistent expectations which are understood and followed
  • Pupils’ behaviour contributes to the focus on learning

Useful Links

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. […] Visits to a deliberately and explicitly connected sample of lessons – inspectors are assessing a sequence of lessons not an individual lesson; they will not grade individual lessons. Inspectors approach to lesson observation is set out in ‘How valid and reliable is the use of lesson observation in supporting judgements on the quality of education? – Ofsted June 2019’ (which we blogged about here). […]

Comments are closed.

Back To Top

We use cookies to improve your online experience. For information on the cookies we use and for details on how we process your personal information, please see our privacy policy. To make full use of our website you must accept the cookies by clicking the button below. You can reset your cookie preference at any time by using the 'Reset Cookie Consent' button in our website footer.