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College teachers say collaboration with peers boosts standards more than OFSTED inspections, new report finds

College hands up in the air

College teachers believe collaboration with other educators has a much bigger impact on improving teaching standards than more formal processes like OFSTED inspections or performance management observations, a new report has found.

A year-long study from academics at Birmingham City University’s Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, looked at how leadership in further education can best contribute to improving the quality of teaching and learning.

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The project was funded by The Further Education Trust for Leadership, a specialist charity which aims to foster, finance and support the leadership of thinking in further education and skills

It found that teachers believe assessing their own performance, informal conversations with colleagues and sharing best practice, most effectively contributes to raising standards.

It also revealed that many teachers felt inhibited by OFSTED inspections and graded observations which they believe were not focussed on raising the level of teaching and served simply as a ‘tick-box exercise’.

The research, which was published in a paper titled The Role of Leadership in Prioritising and Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Further Education, makes a number of recommendations aimed at placing teaching at the heart of college education.

The key findings were:

  • Teaching staff are best placed to improve teaching and learning by identifying and targeting their own professional needs
  • Senior leaders have a central role to play in empowering teachers to refine their practice and create an environment in which they can develop
  • Leadership approaches to improving teaching and learning should actively involve teachers
  • Educational institutions should create long-term plans to improve teaching and learning which are developed over time
  • Adequate time must be provided for teachers to interact with each other to discuss their ideas and reflect on practice, through regular on-going informal interactions.

Hundreds of teaching staff, senior leaders and education professionals were included in the research, which also took in case studies at three institutions.

Speaking about the benefits of having dedicated informal space to discuss teaching practice with colleagues, participants in the research commented:

“Meeting with colleagues is key to thinking and practice improvement, i.e. gathering teaching/learning ideas, solutions to problems in the classroom.”

“Watching each other teach and then talking about classroom practice has been a breath of fresh air. I hated being observed and graded. Did nothing for my teaching.”

“It’s not for me to tell a teacher how to do their job. It’s about removing the barriers to help them do their job well. As a senior leader, I need to listen as much as possible to put the right interventions in place, to monitor those interventions and continue to work with staff to improve them.”

Other participants spoke of the challenges faced by formal observations and OFSTED processes:

“OFSTED have gone on a path that is not benefitting the sector and is also not in the public interest.”

“You know, it’s a product of what’s happened to FE; it’s no one’s fault, you know? Teaching and learning for teaching staff, as far as that goes, is nigh on non-existent.”

“….there was that added pressure that somebody would appear in your classroom at a particular time and you didn’t know which one it was, and I always saw, it was an OFSTED tick-box exercise where it was all about the grade.”

The report comes at a time when further education is facing increased challenges against a backdrop of year-on-year funding cuts since 2010.

It highlights the important role further education has to play in equipping students with the skills they need to enter the jobs market and helping to grow the economy.

Birmingham City University’s Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education, brings together researchers, students, young people and service users to explore a range of topics in education.

Research is focussed on collaborations, which can make a major difference to the future of education.

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