3 Nov

‘Outstanding’: the three-hour performer or the three-term practitioner? 

A personal perspective towards a new definition  
By Sue Mirza, Voice member 

[Policies and practices described may not be typical for other schools in England and Wales.] 

On evaluating the much coveted designation, ‘Outstanding’, ascribed to but a few lessons in recent years, are any teachers reflecting on the implications of this grading with a view to considering alternative conceptions or models that may steer judgements in new directions? 

In the ‘traditional’ model of teacher performance, the visual pathway to the designation of ‘Outstanding’, judged over six half-hour lessons or three hours over a school year, centralizes on performances against pre-arranged statements and distilled phrases which epitomize key elements of learning – all quite valid, accredited and worthwhile characteristics of sound teaching and learning. 

Within this paradigm, however, the teacher is the focal performer, with some claimed acknowledgement that the learner, too, is involved. Grades are awarded when most or all boxes are ticked. Therefore, the quest to identify the ‘outstandingness’ of a lesson looms large with much at stake for the teacher’s future prospects. But might this pre-occupation with the teacher’s performance result in the casting of a shadow over a lesser-perceived aggregate experience for the children? 

Shift in emphasis 

A shift in the emphasis on how a teacher is performing for the limited period of six half-hour observations to that of quality provision in learning experiences delivered over the longer, sustained period of a year or three terms may prompt a new definition of ‘Outstanding’. So, instead of assuming excellence in every field to a teacher based on half-hour (or hour) observations, teachers can be assessed on the bank of sound learning experiences they offer to their children taken over the year, particularly when delivered with unremitting enthusiasm and drive.   

The above model raises important questions that should challenge the present stereotyped ‘Excellent’ teacher, that is the one deemed such on just three hours of observation. 

Here are a few examples of relevant questions worth asking: 

  • To how many ‘outstanding’ experiences has his/her class been exposed?
  • How much has this same teacher given to delivering the breadth of the curriculum?
  • How many of the observed ‘outstanding’ lessons have been seen in the narrow field of literacy / numeracy or possibly ICT?
  • Has s/he demonstrated similar skills in the full range of subjects of the primary curriculum, namely science, music, art, PE, history, geography, technology and PSHCE (Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education), not to mention cross-curricular permutations of any of them?
  • How many subject responsibility posts has the teacher undertaken?  

The teacher graded as ‘Outstanding’ who falls short of full-width delivery stands in sharp contrast to the ‘Good’ or ‘Satisfactory’ teacher who can galvanize a substantial evidence base for three terms either in discrete or cross-curricular themes. 

If, then, ‘Outstanding’ can be regarded as a received experience from the point of view of the child, rather than a performed demonstration of skills on the part of the teacher who may not necessarily display these over a year, one may be persuaded to award ‘Outstanding’ to the three-term practitioner. 

New understanding of ‘excellence’

Even so, observational recording sheets could never do justice to such holistic practice, but school leaders are placed in a prime position to make informed choices on behalf of staff development. 

If they were not obliged to reward teachers who have been graded ‘Outstanding’ based on three hours of formal observations per year, they might realize a greater outlet of autonomy that would allow them to consolidate their new understanding of ‘excellence’. 

Rewarding the three-term practitioner ought to sit well with colleagues who probably already deem him/her ‘Excellent’ and ‘Outstanding’ by virtue of the work they see taking place on a day-to-day basis. If given the opportunity to share their expertise more widely, teachers of this calibre can inspire and motivate colleagues based on sterling classroom practice. 

Staff collaborative planning would thrive. ‘Outstanding’ in its revised meaning could consolidate on application, and teacher teams would become learners themselves, driving learning in their pupils to outstanding levels.

[Article written for October/November 2014 Your Voice.] 

Do let us know your views below. 

Further information

Frequently Asked Questions on teachers’ pay and conditions

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2 Responses to “Outstanding?”

  1. Jane Hetherington 24. Nov, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    I have just read this fabulous article in November’s ‘Your Voice’ and had to congratulate Sue Mirza and agree with her entirely. Thank you Sue.

  2. Sue Mirza 16. Dec, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    Thank you very much for your comments , Jane, and please excuse this late reply. Hopefully the hard-grafters whose feet are firmly planted in classroom practice will receive all the encouragement and support they deserve.

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