Secret Teacher: from outstanding to inadequate in just six weeks

The latest Secret Teacher writing in the Guardian argues that using lesson observations to improve teaching standards is a high-risk strategy. If enthusiastic new teachers are told they’re inadequate, many won’t stay long enough to improve…

Just before Christmas, I had a lesson observation by an external consultant. My lesson was graded outstanding and, as a teacher fresh out of induction, I was pretty proud of myself.

During my newly qualified teacher (NQT) year, I had never been graded less than good. But to get that outstanding as a fully qualified teacher felt like something special; at the very least, it validated how hard I was working and justified the sacrifices I was continually making in my work-life balance.

Roll on six weeks, and I was observed again by a different consultant – and this time my lesson was graded inadequate.

To say this was a shock is a huge understatement. The lesson perhaps wasn’t one of my best, but I would never have said it was inadequate…

The demotivating effect was instantaneous. I was so upset that I couldn’t go back into the classroom that afternoon. Instead, I went home and proceeded to do absolutely zero planning for the next day. For the rest of the week, my teaching was somewhat lacklustre because I was so wrung out by the distress of the observation. I felt ashamed of myself and unworthy of the responsibility of teaching a class of children. I started to feel overwhelmed by the possibility that I might be letting my students down. By the weekend, I was experiencing symptoms of anxiety.

I had received no written feedback from the observation. I could remember bits and pieces of the suggestions for improvement, but what stuck in my head most was that grade. Inadequate, inadequate, inadequate. The trouble is that there’s such an obsession with the grades – from the government, the press and headteachers – that it’s very tricky, especially as a new teacher, to resist becoming obsessed too. And that’s dangerously counter-productive; once you’re told that your work is inadequate, it strips the drive right out of you. And that doesn’t improve your teaching one iota.

As it happens, I am lucky. I have a supportive headteacher, who has specifically reiterated her faith in me as a teacher following my damning observation. And I have that outstanding under my belt, which is helping me to believe that I can do this job…

But what happens to all those other young teachers who don’t have such support and self-belief? In my short career, I already know of at least one teacher who has left the profession rather than continue working under the pressure created by negative observation grades. I know of others who have left without saying why, but I suspect that an “inadequate” was involved somewhere along the line…

People feel motivated when their work is valued. If enthusiastic young teachers are told that they are inadequate, then many of them will not stay in teaching long enough to improve. I’d like to think I’m made of stronger stuff than that, but after the past few weeks, I’m not so sure.

This week’s Secret Teacher is from a primary school in south west England.

More at: Secret Teacher: from outstanding to inadequate in just six weeks

What do you make of this account from the Secret Teacher? It seems strange that the lesson observation wasn’t used to indicate any possible areas for improvement – along with a plan for achieving them – rather than just a damning grading? Is this normal? Please share your insights and experiences in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Teaching.


  1. DawnConnor

    SchoolsImprove Is ridiculous that NQTs are graded along the exact same lives as more experienced teachers. An Ofsted anomaly.

  2. Tuck1

    I have had staff where I work leave due to the incessant observation of lessons. At a difficult school where the children’s behaviour can destroy the lesson with sometimes not a lot to be done by the teacher very good teachers are being given inadequate and the only support is more observation, oh and generic cpd that is no use!
    Recently I taught a top set year 9 followed by a middle set year 9 renowned for being almost unteachable. I was observed teaching the latter and the slt said that they deliberately came to watch this class, not the one where I had students working at a high level, motivated and independent and making good progress with my intervention. I got a requiring improvement. As someone who has always got goods and outstanding I was sadly thrilled not to be inadequate. Having taught for nearly ten years I know that there are times I am a very good teacher and others where I am not. I find the new system of observation, particularly in schools in special measures such as mine to be more about undermining the teachers than supporting them.

  3. kccv1

    Outside #consultant #lesson #observations sounds #expensive, lazy and #counter-productive. How do they support improvement?

  4. Mike Bell

    The real problem, highlighted here is the use of ‘consultants’.  It seems that the stress teachers are under is not primarily the product of an actual OFSTED inspection, but observations and mock-inspections.

    Senior members of staff then put pressure on teachers to comply with the feedback from the mock-inspector.

    Much better to spend the time/money/enthusiasm/energy giving staff the chance to learn about and practice one new ‘proven-to-work-by-the-evidence method.

    You may like to join The

  5. CliffSeggie

    SchoolsImprove I got wildly diff gradings when looking for a new job. Each school (& individual) applying the standards differently IMO

  6. Pixthepoodle

    DawnConnor SchoolsImprove are exams easier for kids taught by NQTS then? experience should not be used as an excuse – kids get 1 chance

  7. petertheteacher

    kccv1 SchoolsImprove Lesson observation must be both rigorously objective and geared towards coaching areas of weakness. It can be done!

  8. GillHitchin

    drmattoleary SchoolsImprove One of my colleagues went from grade 1 to a 4 in a year. AFTER implementing changes intro’d by SLT.

  9. DawnConnor

    Pixthepoodle SchoolsImprove Indeed, but teaching kids is a team effort. Everyone gets better with experience, including teachers.

  10. drmattoleary

    GillHitchin SchoolsImprove It’s examples like this that are important in exposing the pseudo-scientific nature of such practice

  11. bojo2007kj

    SchoolsImprove Just shows that individual bias may play a large part of the assessment. Written feedback would have been useful too!

  12. EducatingJess

    andylutwyche Trundling17 SchoolsImprove yep- remember when we had advisory teachers who actually knew the job of teaching and were free?

  13. zsharman

    SchoolsImprove … One man’s meat is another nan’s poison .. Terrible inconsistency around teaching judgements leads to feelings of despair

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