March 2013


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  • Watching Brief
    In its attempts to drive standards in teaching and learning beyond ‘good’, Peter Broughton’s school had to rethink its approach to staff development and lesson observation. He explains how their strategy has succeeded. More
  • Board spectrum
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  • Plan A
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In its attempts to drive standards in teaching and learning beyond ‘good’, Peter Broughton’s school had to rethink its approach to staff development and lesson observation. He explains how their strategy has succeeded.

Watching Brief

Bishop Justus Church of England School opened its doors in 2004 and has prided itself on being an institution where staff at all levels innovate and change in order to secure the best outcomes for students, irrespective of their start point. The school’s ethos of ‘Through faith and learning’ encompasses the view that all staff will become better at what they do simply by being a part of our school environment.

The frustration of a ‘satisfactory’ judgement on our teaching and learning in an otherwise positive Ofsted inspection in early 2009, as well as the opening of the sixth form three years ago, led to a renewed focus on ensuring that continuing professional development (CPD) genuinely improved staff performance.

Underpinned by the development of a leadership competency framework, the school has refined training programmes by embracing new technology and adopting smarter methods of assessing impact in the classroom.

We have four methods of reviewing classroom learning. The most common is a learning walk where student learning will be observed for up to ten minutes with in-depth analysis provided on request. These are on the calendar and range from tracking students across lessons to assessing the learning behaviour of high-attaining students. The ability to view four or five lessons allows the school to assess progress against a number of key aims in the improvement plan quickly and effectively.

Free from grades

Where we complete more rigorous area reviews, 20- to 30-minute observations provide formative feedback for staff but without a graded judgement. These are helpful to staff because they provide detailed comments about key strengths that can be used as evidence against the Teachers’ Standards. In addition, development comments will use the wording of Ofsted guidance about what makes a good or outstanding lesson to pinpoint precise actions that need to be taken.

We have found that because this type of review is shorter and is free
from grades, it is also being used by colleagues in more informal peer
support sessions. It has encouraged paired observations so a wider range of colleagues, including subject leaders and teachers, have been
involved in reviewing lessons. This helps to ensure that comments
made by staff in their feedback are consistent across the school.

In some respects, a formal hour-long observation with Ofsted grading and feedback is the least effective in securing development but is a very useful affirmation for the teacher about the quality of their ‘show’ lesson. This type of observation forms the basis of a teacher’s formal appraisal observation.

In addition, we have had extensive support from staff for our programme
of student reviewers. This takes the form of a pre-meeting where three
focus areas are agreed and then two students review an hour lesson and feed back to the member of staff on the pre-agreed areas. While there was some initial scepticism about this project, following a successful year-long pilot, it has become a well-established feature of our teaching and learning strategies.

Video recording

Over the last three years, IRIS (a system of video recording and analysing student learning in the classroom) has been a part of our commitment to develop staff through lesson observation. Staff have noted that while watching a recording of yourself teaching is not initially a comfortable experience, it brings a level of self-reflection that few
other processes match. When staff see a ‘student-eye’ version of the lessons they have delivered, there is an awareness of what has been done well and what could produce even better results.

IRIS Connect software, with its ability to provide written commentary
and pose a range of questions during a recorded lesson, has helped to facilitate coaching between colleagues. This in turn has allowed staff to appreciate what coaching is and how it may differ from mentoring when it comes to developing teaching practice.

The technology allows other staff to use open questions in commentating on the recording. This prompts genuine dialogue between staff over what effective learning in the classroom looks like. In turn, the teacher whose lesson has been recorded comes up with key areas for improvement without any suggestions from the teacher who has reviewed the lesson.

The introduction of this technology has had four distinct phases.

Phase 1
A number of staff were trained in using this technology and shared their experiences through bespoke INSET. This year-long phase was crucial in helping to reduce some of the anxieties that staff had about how invasive the cameras might be and how the software would be used within the school.

Phase 2
Our work developed through our curriculum pathways at Key Stage 3. Staff volunteered certain lessons that could be filmed and shared their

recordings with a number of different staff including at least one colleague who acted as a coach. There was an expectation that the coaches would use open questions as prompts for staff to reflect on how distinctive learning actually was. The online dialogue that ensued helped bring a sharper focus to lessons within the core subjects at Key Stage 3.

We also adjusted our protocols and worked through some of the
logistical issues, including how the IT team could ensure that recordings could be booked and processed.

Phase 3
This phase emerged unexpectedly from the previous one and saw staff sharing their recorded lessons with one another on an informal basis. Some shared their lessons with a mentor, others with colleagues at a similar level of experience and in some cases staff requested colleagues to be a critical friend where lessons had not gone to plan. In this phase, the software simply served as a spark to begin conversations about techniques that worked with groups of learners. In

some ways, this phase was the most successful in terms of our usage of IRIS.

Phase 4
The school has recognised that for some staff watching an entire lesson of their own or others is a time commitment that they cannot make consistently. We are now capturing a range of innovative short teaching activities and linking it to our teaching and learning forum. This forum is informal in nature and lets staff share teaching ideas that work. We expect that over the course of the year we will generate a range of ‘bitesize’ videos that provide staff with teaching ideas and resources.

‘Small and of quality’

This oft-repeated mantra within our senior leadership team (SLT) has been at the heart of all our development strategies. It refl ects the fact that a rapidly expanding school such as Bishop Justus will inevitably have to undergo swift change simply because of the growth in student
numbers. The potential pitfalls in trying to introduce a range of initiatives at the same time are obvious. This has meant that any new strategies need to be small in number but embedded effectively.

When it came to ensuring that staff delivered improved teaching and
learning, we have sought to focus on a few core areas each year. Planning has and continues to be an area of consistent challenge so this is kept as a standing item for development. Alongside it, two or three additional areas are focused upon. We then ensure that training, appraisal and school development are all integrated to deliver the desired outcomes.

  • Peter Broughton is an assistant headteacher, teaching and learning, at Bishop Justus Church of England School, Bromley, Kent.

Find Out More

IRIS Connect is an ASCL preferred supplier and delivers lesson observations, enhanced coaching, effective self and peer review, CPD, ITT and a  exible range of camera and licensing requirements. ASCL members can enjoy  five free licences with every purchase, worth £465. For more information visit or call 08453 038 578.