Increasing structured teacher observations makes no difference to GCSE English and maths results

Introducing more frequent and structured lesson observations – where teachers observe their colleagues and give them feedback – made no difference to pupils’ GCSE maths and English results, according to a report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today. 

14,100 pupils in 82 English secondary schools took part in the randomised controlled trial of Teacher Observation. The intervention was designed and delivered by a team from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the University of Bristol, and the independent evaluation was conducted by NFER.

Maths and English teachers in the intervention schools were asked to take part in at least 6 structured 20-minute peer observations over a two-year period (with a suggested number of between 12 and 24). Teachers rated each other on specific elements of a lesson, like how well they managed behaviour, engaged students in learning or used discussion techniques.

A US study found that structured lesson observation led to gains in student and teacher performance. The EEF funded this evaluation to explore the impact of structured teacher observation in the English context.

The independent evaluation by researchers at the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) found that the GCSE pupils (15 and 16 year olds) whose teachers were eligible to take part made, on average, no more progress in combined English and maths scores than a similar group of pupils whose teachers were not eligible to take part.

Many teachers failed to complete the recommended number of observations. Some said they had difficulty fitting the observations into their timetable, while others said that they felt uncomfortable taking time out of teaching to complete observations, and that the level of expected observations was unsustainable. Even when observations did take place, there was no evidence that teachers who did more observations had better pupil results.

The findings from this study have a very high level of security. However, it is important to note that many of the comparison schools said that they were already doing some lesson observation of some sort. What these results suggest is that this structured observation programme does not have any benefits over existing levels of peer observation. 

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said:

We know that quality of teaching is one of the biggest drivers of pupil attainment, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. But when it comes to developing teachers, it’s the type of feedback and professional development that schools use that really matters.

Today’s research tells us that schools shouldn’t expect to see an improvement in results by increasing the frequency and intensity of their teacher observations. Even though some teachers in our trial struggled to fit them into their busy days, when they did, they made no difference to pupil results.

Focusing on proven ways of improving teaching – like tried and tested CPD courses and feedback methods - are likely to reap bigger rewards.

Also published today are evaluations of MathsFlipLesson Study and Learner Response System

Notes to editors

1. The full evaluation report will be available here, at 0001 on Friday 10th November 2017.

2. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £87 million to test the impact of 142 projects reaching more than 960,000 children and young people in over 9,200 schools, nurseries and colleges across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.

3. The Teaching and Learning Toolkit and its Early Years companion are accessible summaries of educational research developed by the EEF in collaboration with the Sutton Trust and a team of academics at Durham University led by Professor Steve Higgins. The Toolkits cover 46 topics and summarises research from over 11,500 studies. The Toolkits are a live resource which are regularly updated.

4. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education, working to create an excellent education for all children and young people. It is a not-for-profit organisation whose robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. Any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to support its charitable purpose.