How lesson observations have evolved in education

Lesson observations have been an important feature, in the majority of schools, since they became a key part of the Ofsted inspection process when it was founded in 1992. As education has evolved over the past three decades, observations seem to have remained a fixed entity, as they are, for many, deemed the most effective method in identifying the quality of teaching. It is only recently that the validity of the traditional lesson observation is being questioned.

Prior to the September 2005 framework, lesson observations, by Ofsted, were deemed the most accurate way to judge teaching and learning, making up typically 60% of the time of an inspection. As Ofsted was using this indicator measure, so schools aligned to the ‘rules of the game’ and its internal processes of judging teaching used lesson observations using the Ofsted criteria

Observations remained the central method to judge teaching and learning in the September 2005 framework, but they evolved to being used as a piece of evidence to follow up a line of inquiry. Lessons were no longer graded, so the Ofsted observation form no longer graded lessons. Many schools however still continued to grade as they felt the grading of lessons was key in being able to provide them with reliable evidence on the quality of teaching and learning.

There has been, over the years, an increased emphasis on analysing learning over time, whereas the lesson observation only provides a snapshot in time. Lesson observations rely on making a connection between what you are seeing and a belief of the amount of learning that has taken place. It is difficult to quantify how much learning has taken place during a lesson and this judgement is mostly based on a ‘feeling’. While observing the learning, the observer may have a tendency to successfully ‘judge’ lessons based on how the lesson aligns to their own view on quality teaching.  

As we are aware, teaching varies from day-to-day and lesson-to-lesson. Sometimes certain approaches work and sometimes they don’t. A successful teacher is able to adapt a lesson to the needs of the pupils and therefore isn’t relying on following a lesson plan ‘word for word’ as they are able to accurately identify the starting point and provide challenge towards the goal.  Teaching, therefore, needs to be ‘judged’ over time, using a variety of different sources, to identify the ‘typical/normal’ standard of teaching and learning for a particular member of staff.

Successful schools have developed a toolkit of resources to make an overall judgement of the quality of teaching and learning over time. This has been created to triangulate evidence and includes; 

  • Lesson observations
  • Learning walks.
  • "Drop-ins" 
  • Pupil interviews
  • Work scrutinies 
  • Data analysis

Learning over time aligns with the September 2012 introduction of the teaching standards which were intended to be used for a range of purposes that included assessing the competence of teachers. The standards include;

  • Setting high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils  
  • Promoting good progress and outcomes by pupils  
  • Demonstrating good subject and curriculum knowledge  
  • Planning and teaching well-structured lessons  
  • Adapting teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils  
  • Making accurate and productive use of assessment  
  • Managing behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment 
  • Teachers and other staff have consistently high expectations of what each pupil can achieve, including disadvantaged pupils and the most able 

A range of evidence is collected against these standards rather than making a judgment against an individual lesson.

The lesson ‘observation’ in successful schools has evolved and focuses on the pupils learning rather than the performance of the teacher. Rather than having a large quantity of ‘observed’ lessons, it is more about the quality and the impact of the observer on the teacher in changing the way they teach.

Schools can have a large number of regular observations, but observing lessons without having an impact is at best ineffective and at worst damaging to teacher workload and morale.

Changing the way teachers teach is the challenge faced within a lot of schools because it involves changing long-established habits. Identifying an area for development will not necessarily prompt the change.

“We have been focusing on getting teachers to think their way into a new way of acting, whereas it would be far more effective to get teachers to act their way into a new way of thinking.” (Dylan Wiliam 2010)

The future of observations is about them being used as part of a larger resource toolkit. It is less about them being used at a specific time, but more when needed. Less about being used on someone, but more of a change in culture towards collaboration, where teachers and observers work together to identify strengths, areas for development, and share professional knowledge that improves the quality of teaching and learning and the outcomes for children.

How does iP support the ‘Observation Toolkit’?

As described earlier, there is a wealth of benefits in using a range of observation and monitoring forms to highlight areas of strength and areas for development across a school.  There is no limit to the amount and type of form you may wish to create, for example:-

  • Lesson observations
  • Learning walks
  • "Drop-ins" 
  • Pupil interviews
  • Work scrutinies 
  • Data analysis
  • Staff Well-being self-reflective form
  • COVID-19 Safe Environment self-reflective form
  • Coaching and Mentoring support form
  • Peer Review
  • Probationary Period forms

Forms can be used to glean information from one member of staff to whole departments or entire organisations.  They can be created for informal/formal observations to self-reflective self-improvement tools, and indeed anything in-between.  The same questions can be posed on different forms for different audiences, in preparation for reporting and analysing down to a granular level.  Forms can be created with the intention of a colleague to complete or for the staff member themselves to complete.  In short, the scope is endless and the features and functions flexible.

The big question though is how to make the completion of the observation and monitoring forms easy to set up, administer and use, and then how to make sense of the data gleaned from across a variety of resources.  iP makes this easy!  Let’s review each area step by step:-

  1. Setting up an observation/monitoring form in iP
  2. Administering a form in iP
  3. Completing a form in iP
  4. Data analysis and reporting of observations/monitoring in iP

Watch the video here to gain a quick overview  

Setting up an observation/monitoring form in iP

The simplest solution is to send your existing form to us.   We will spend time discussing the best options for set-up in relation to your expected outcomes, and then iP will create it for you. Alternatively, book in for FREE and UNLIMITED online training or follow the instructions in the guide  

Observation Settings 

The guide will show you how to:-

  • Create a form utilising a choice of questions and answer formats  
  • Set a form type e.g. Probation Forms, OTLA Forms, Staff well-being surveys etc. Dependent on your organisation's reporting needs
  • Add grading types if necessary e.g. ‘Teaching over time’ gradings, Deep Dive Outcomes, Ofsted style or a simple yes/no

In no time at all, you will have created the form reflecting the questions that are important to your organisation.  Perhaps something similar to the forms below.

Confidential Peer Review

Learning Walk 

2. Administering observation/monitoring forms in iP

The process of administering has never been easier!  The freshly created iP observation/monitoring form/survey now needs to be assigned and then completed by an observer or the staff member themselves.  

So how do you assign a form?

Once all of the templates have been created, a Line Manager/Site Administrator or another staff member with the correct permission can schedule and run observations.  There are a few ways to do this:

  1. My Work > Observation > What Next > Add Observation > Select the Staff Member and form from the drop-down menus > Enter details in the remaining fields > Click on Add to run the observation at a later time or click on Run Now to run immediately

 Add Observation

If Run Now is selected, it will open to complete immediately for the set Observer/s to complete.  If Add is selected, this will load the observation in the staff member’s work area, in observations.  This is now ready for the Observer/s to click on the link to open the form at a later date.

2. The second way to assign and open a form is to click on the staff member name on the My Staff page to go into their work area:-

My Details > My Staff > Click on Name > Observations > What Next > Add Observation > A similar window to the one above will open

3. The final way to assign several forms to several people who you do or don’t directly manage is vai My Work.  This option is available if the user right Add observations for staff you don't manage is set in your user rights.  Ask your organisation iP Site Administrator if in doubt.  This will allow you to add observations for anyone (not just the people that you line manage) as long as they have an open review.  Watch the video here  to find out how, or book in FREE and UNLIMITED online training.

3. Completing a form in iP

How the Observer completes the form depends on the design of your form, the headers, questions and tools used.  The one below is made up of questions with a single select answer with the option of adding supporting comments.

Learning Walk 

When the form is completed:-  What Next > Save (to come back to immediately) / Save & Close (to come back to later) / Submit to finish and send to the appraisee.

4. Data analysis and reporting of observations/monitoring in iP

The iP reporting functionality makes light work of data analysis of a single form and indeed of data across multiple forms. A wealth of data can be gleaned by those in school who have access to ‘My Reports’ in iP, usually the Leadership Team, in order to respond and support appropriately.

Dashboard Display 

Data can be produced and refined ready for sharing at the click of a mouse.  An organisation can use pre-set reports or create bespoke reports utilising a sophisticated filtering system.  Data can be analysed per question gradings and groupings, per specific question breakdown, question comments and a combination of all.  It's easy to see staff with overdue or indeed no observations set.  In no other way is data handled with such ease.

If you would like to find out more about how iP is helping to change the culture within schools and colleges, why not call on +44 (0) 333 0433 450 or e-mail

If you would like to find out more, receive a DEMO or book in FREE and UNLIMITED online training, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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