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Surviving and succeeding in the first year of teaching: Observations and Ofsted

surviving-teachingAlex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, SSAT, writes…

In this series we are sharing advice for new teachers from Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School on how to make a success of your early months in teaching. This ninth entry explores how to make the most of formal and informal observations, and your first visit from Ofsted…


Your first year is very busy and observations might seem like another pressure. It doesn’t have to be like this. Be proactive about making any observation a useful and informative way of developing yourself professionally.

The worst thing you can do is be a completely different teacher – students will immediately pick up on it and react. An observation is not about putting on a show, it’s about showing what you do on a daily basis. Keep everything in perspective and you’ll find the process rewarding rather than nerve-wracking!

Formal observations

It is highly likely that members of the senior leadership team will observe you during the year as part of a performance management system. This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your good practice, so prepare thoroughly.

Creating a good first impression is key. Have a seat ready for the observer to ensure a calm start. Depending on how formal the observation is, you might want to consider giving the observer a pack with some information about the lesson – this can include the resources you are using, an outline plan for the lesson, any key data on your class and a seating plan.

Formal observations are not the time to experiment with brand-new activities so stick to things that have worked well in the past. Similarly, resist the temptation to over-plan: it’s better to extend the plenary than not reach it at all.

Finally, make sure you get some feedback from your observers at an appropriate time. Use this to inform your long-term target setting to ensure that the next time you are observed formally, you can demonstrate clear progress.

Informal observations

Throughout the year seek out other teachers willing to observe you. Mutual observations, within or across departments, can be extremely useful in informing your development and it’s always good to get a fresh pair of eyes into your classroom.

Informal observations will be more effective if both parties agree on focus points for improvement. For example spend a term working on pace and challenge, develop strategies together, implement them in your respective classrooms, observe, compare and review. Equally, agree first on what the observer wants from you. If the focus is on planning, they may want to see a lesson plan. If it is behaviour, it may be an idea to provide a copy of the seating plan. However, you shouldn’t be providing the comprehensive pack expected for a formal observation.

Any observation is a wasted opportunity if constructive feedback does not take place. Assign time to receive feedback; ask questions, make notes and use it to inform your next target.

Observing others

Taking time to observe other teachers is another brilliant way of pushing yourself professionally. There is no better way to stop your lessons going stale than picking up tips from watching others teach. However, all teachers find having another adult in the room unnerving, so make the experience as easy as possible.

Remember that flattery gets you everywhere. Explain that you’ve heard good things about the teacher’s practice and would like to see it for yourself. Give them plenty of warning and choice about when you could come in. Decide on a focus – this will not only make it easier for the teacher to cater to your needs, it will make your observation more productive.

Be discreet, it’s not a good idea to get involved in behaviour management in someone else’s classroom unless they ask you to. Finally, make sure you thank them. A little note as you leave or an email later on with a short comment on a tip you picked up will show how much you appreciate their time.

What if there is an Ofsted inspection in my first year?

It’s coming to the end of the year. Exams are over, the pressure’s easing off, you’ve nearly made it. Then, Ofsted announce they’ll be arriving in two days.

Fortunately, as a new teacher you will be much more used to being observed than most other teaching staff. Use that to your advantage, keep your cool and follow the normal advice for formal observations as outlined above. If you are observed, you are entitled to brief feedback from the inspectors – make sure you get it.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your observation, make sure that you talk to your head of department. If there has been any misunderstanding, a member of senior staff may be able to address this with the inspection team.

You will need to bear a few other things in mind for the visit. Inspectors will be checking that books are up to date and pupils know their current attainment grades, targets and how to progress. Ideally, these are things you do anyway but it doesn’t hurt to inform pupils that they may be asked to share that information.

Inspectors may ask you about school priorities for development and so it’s a good idea to have a read through whole-school and departmental policies as well as key policies (safeguarding/behaviour) in preparation.

Advice from those who’ve been there and done it

An Ofsted inspection can be a very rewarding time at school; everyone pulls together, the school’s attributes are highlighted and constructive feedback is given. Don’t blow it out of proportion!
Christa, Business Academy Bexley

I learnt so much from observing; keep the observations up when you start teaching in your free periods. I would also ask teachers from other departments to observe you if possible. I gained so much from being observed by experienced teachers from other departments.
Emma, Little Heath School

It is very important to observe and be observed as much as possible to share thoughts on how teaching and learning and classroom management can be improved. Don’t ever focus solely on the negatives after an observation – remind yourself that you are a good teacher.
Hannah, South Wirral School



What are your experiences of your first year in teaching? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Let us know via Twitter with the hashtag #SSATsurvive or in the comments below.

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