Thursday, 24 April 2014

'Mocksteds' - why the NUT says NO

One of the threats debated at last weekend's NUT Conference was the use of demoralising and unreliable 'graded observations' to unfairly compare and label teachers.

Some schools are even using such observations as part of a stressful 'mocksted' inspection of a school (even though that would be contrary to Ofsted's own advice!). 

The NUT has clear policy opposing this damaging and educationally unsound practice. I have produced a summary explaining why NUT members would be supported in refusing to accept an imposed 'mock inspection'. The advice can be downloaded from but is also posted below:


Educational research confirms that the ‘grading’ of lessons through observation cannot be a reliable way of making judgements about teaching quality.

For example, Professor Robert Coe, a former teacher who is now the director of Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, has highlighted a number of reasons why classroom observation can be an unreliable tool.

He highlights research (such as the Measures of Effective Teaching Research funded by the Gates Foundation) which shows that if a lesson is judged ‘outstanding’ by one observer the probability that a second observer would give a different judgement is between 51% and 78%.

According to Professor Coe there are several reasons why this happens.

1. It is hard for an observer not to project their own preferences for a particular style or behaviour onto a classroom situation and compare what is seen to what that person thinks they would have done. However, what a particular observer may like, may not always correspond well with what helps others to learn.

2. An observer may note that students are busy, engaged, receiving attention or feedback and that the classroom is ordered. Although these factors are all related to learning, it is quite possible for some or all of them to be observed without any actual learning taking place.

3. If observers are experienced, but not necessarily effective themselves, they may be unable to identify effective practice.

4. Accepted good practice may be more fashionable than effective.

5. A number of surprising studies in psychology show that when people try to focus on observing particularly things, they can miss an extraordinary amount – a phenomenon known as ‘inattentional blindness’.


In his February 2014 Report, Mike Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s National Director of Schools, has written to confirm that
 “Since 2009, inspectors have been instructed not to grade the overall quality of a lesson they visit”. He points out that, in “the most recent version of the form, the box for a graded ‘judgement on the overall quality of the lesson’ has been removed”.

His Report includes the following points:
  • Inspectors should not give an overall grade for the lesson and nor should teachers expect one. 
  • If asked, inspectors will provide feedback to individuals on what they have observed, including the evidence they have gathered about teaching.
  • Inspectors must ensure that this feedback does not seem to constitute a view about whether the teacher is a ‘good’ teacher or otherwise, or if they ‘taught a good lesson’ or otherwise. The feedback they give is confidential.
  • Inspection is about evaluating the quality of education provided by the school, by considering a range of evidence, and not about evaluating, individually or collectively, the performance of teachers through short lesson observations


In the light of the points above, the guidance issued by the NUT and NASUWT on Inspections is even more relevant.

The points outlined above show that there is no justification for schools carrying out ‘mocksteds’ that seek to grade individual teachers and without giving notice of when teachers will be observed.

Firstly, the process would be unreliable. Secondly, it does not even replicate a genuine Ofsted inspection. Last, and but by no means least, such a ’mock-inspection’ is also too often highly stressful and demoralising for staff. Far from improving teaching and learning, it leaves teachers feeling fearful, particularly of outcomes being used to make judgements that could be used for capability or pay progression purposes.

Lewisham NUT is clear that our members are covered by our ongoing action ballot to implement Instruction 7 of our action short of strike action instructions:

7: Members should not participate in mock inspections commissioned by the school, sponsor, provider or local authority. 

If a school seeks to insist on imposing such an inspection, we will support our members in carrying out this instruction. Such action might include non-cooperation with the process, such as asking their classes to carry out silent reading if a ‘mocksted’ inspector visits, and/or consideration of escalation to strike action.

We would hope that such a step would not be required and that, instead, the Local Authority, schools, teachers and their unions could reach agreement on appropriate ways of evaluating schools which do not include such demoralising and unreliable tools as graded observations and ‘mocksteds’.

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