St Hild’s Church of England Academy, Hartlepool

i-observe Teaching Assistants, Diane Crannage

St Hild’s Church of England School is a non-selective secondary school that has languished in RI for more years than I can remember. It’s fair to say it has had its fair share of ‘new’ Head Teachers in the past 20 years. However, little real impact has been made to lift this fantastic school from the edge of the RI precipice.

With approximately 700 students on role and in an area of high unemployment and high child poverty we really need all the support we can get for our students. We have always had an army of enthusiastic and very willing support staff that have always gone the extra mile to help out. It was a given that they were working hard – ‘you could see it’. However, we had never really measured the impact of Teaching Assistants (TAs) in the classroom and their deployment around school could often be rather adhoc. The TAs themselves were often left feeling like the second-class citizens of the school not through any fault of the role they played just by the lack of whole school involvement.

The TAs had rarely, if ever been formally observed and CPD was a bit of a lottery. They were often not included in CPD sessions given to teaching staff so valuable opportunities to progress and share practice were missed over a substantial period of time.

Fortunately times are changing; our current Head Teacher is moving us forward at pace. She sees the real value of TAs and has the vision to embed their role successfully. We quickly established opportunities for weekly tailored CPD.

Central to all of this was i-observe. We used the training materials initially during a CPD session. This gave an opportunity for TAs to discuss and rationalise the work they were doing and familiarise themselves with the language, sliders and statements on the i-observe App. We then arranged 20 minute observations at a time of their choosing. Our focus was purely TAs supporting learning and the 3 distinct categories on I-observe helped with this with three simple headings; deployment, practice and preparedness. The statements explaining each heading really helped to understand what high quality support looks like and how we could improve the expertise in school. This was the start of a conversation and a tool to measure impact. We could highlight the successful work already taking place, share with others, also identify and celebrate great work with students. Most of all, a real chance to have learning conversations with teachers and teaching assistants.

From the observers perspective i-observe prompts the user what questions to ask of pupils, teachers and TAs. It gives the consistency that’s needed to measure impact, and taking photographs is an extra bonus.

Having conversations after the observations was a crucial part of the process to ensure we got the true picture of the work that was happening. Teachers and TAs were often planning together and discussing assessments and progress of individuals. They were eager to discuss their work and the data collected on i-observe gave the observer a chance to discuss what had been seen. We were then able to arrange opportunities for best practice to be shared. As a school we are now able to analyse the feedback from observations and offer a range of tailored CPD sessions.
It was clear from observations and after speaking with students that the TAs at St Hild’s had a range of specialisms. So as a school we took the opportunity to develop these specialisms further; both in SEND and subject specific areas. Our TAs have all become SLSAs (Senior Learning Support Assistants) and are linked to work with specific departments and have fine tuned a range of SEND specialisms such as ASD, ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, MLD, social inclusion etc. They are involved in department meetings and subject development along with this they work with pupils with specific needs and share their specialist SEND knowledge with others across the school.

A central theme to the school’s work is the notion that we support our most disadvantaged children. We see the need to encourage a thirst for learning and give inspiration to achieve, no matter what the child’s background or current approach to learning. We use the work of SLSAs to provide additional opportunities in lessons to make progress and increase lifelong aspiration. The progress of our SLSAs is now clearly evidenced through i-observe and the progress and impact they are making is clearly identified and recorded.

Kat Furness, Monkseaton High School
Monkseaton is an outstanding high school North Tyneside. Here Kat Furness explains the impact of i-observe on teaching and learning in school.

Why did you adopt i-observe?
We wanted to move to a process where we didn’t grade lessons, but were conscious that this could make it difficult to Quality Assure. We wanted a tool to facilitate standardisation, but also one that would enable us to build a culture of professional development.

How did you roll it out and how have you sustained its use?
I delivered a training session with all of our Performance Managers to launch i-observe, explain how it worked, our rationale for adopting it and what we hoped to achieve by using it consistently. This was then followed up with a whole school CPD session where i-observe was introduced to all staff. One of the main reasons for this was to develop an Open Door culture where staff take part in a voluntary practice improvement cycle. We believe some of the improvements made across our teaching and learning are as a result of using i-observe. We have sustained its use by using it twice a year as part of our Performance Management appraisal programme, encouraging staff to use it during our Open Door cycles (two per year), and using it for all of our NQT/ITT observations. The teaching and learning team has access to the online aspect of i-observe and monitor its use.

Is there any evidence of impact that you can attribute to the use of i-observe?
During the review carried out by North Tyneside Local Authority in June 2015, our observations about the quality of teaching and learning were validated. We had used the graphing features available to us on the i-observe website to reach an overall judgement, which was agreed. Furthermore, i-observe featured very positively in the results of our annual staff questionnaire, with it’s worth as a professional development tool being commented upon. Another benefit of using i-observe has been an improvement to feedback conversations. Due to the nature of the slider comments within the app, conversations have been far more focused on teaching and learning, rather than being subjective and opinion-based. Many staff have commented that being able to discuss very specific elements of their lessons has had a positive impact on their practice. We also ensure that the i-observe app is available during these conversations as staff were keen to know the content of the next descriptor up so that they knew what they were aiming for in terms of development. Our staff value our CPD programme and i-observe fits well alongside this.

Would you recommend membership, why?
Having access to PDF versions of all the observations and being able to group these as we want to has been invaluable. We have also made much use of the facility to turn the data into graphs. We would definitely recommend membership.

What advice would you give to a school planning to use i-observe?
We feel that the key to i-observe’s success at Monkseaton has been our insistence that it is not used as a tool for judgement. We have made it our focus to ensure that the focus remains on developing teaching practice.

Colin Lofthouse, Headteacher of Rickleton Primary School, a large two-form entry school in Washington, Tyne and Wear, uses i-observe. Colin explains how i-observe is helping to up-skill his leadership team and ensure consistency when evaluating teaching.

“We have 35 frontline teaching and non-teaching staff. We place high importance on continuous development of teaching skill and all staff are part of the appraisal process. Already a good school in Ofsted terms, our aim is to ensure all pupils make higher than expected rates of progress through increasing the quantity of outstanding teaching.

“We use i-observe for all of our lesson observations. This includes informal drop-in, development observations, NQT mentoring and more formal appraisal observations. We also use it to record and evaluate teaching episodes during recruitment. With a relatively large staff and devolved leadership we needed a way to manage and evaluate teaching quality in a way that was usable and efficient, accessible and useful to staff and created the critical level of consistency of approach required.

“We have found i-observe is the answer to all of our requirements. Recording is immediate in the observation and a deeper level of evaluation is promoted through the use of the links to the Ofsted framework and suggestions for observer activities. It has helped us achieve consistency of approach with those staff new or unused to observing teaching. Staff really like the easy to read visual feedback and the immediacy of an emailed version shortly after the observation is excellent. It is a flexible system that can be tailored by the user according to need, turning on and off features such as turning off the judgement sliders for coaching observation feedback. Our self-evaluation of the quality of teaching has improved with the ability to interrogate the on-line data base.”

Mike Barnes, head teacher of Flakefleet Primary School in Fleetwood, told i-observe about the benefits of i-observe, both day-to-day and during a recent inspection.

“As the Headteacher of a two-form entry primary school, my senior staff and I carry out teaching observations on a regular basis throughout the year. These observations are both for professional development as well as the more formal appraisal process. We needed a way of recording these observations which was simple, easy to use and above all gave us the flexibility to add our own comments and observations, as well as having suggested areas to look at.

“i-observe does all this for us and more. It is a great way to record our observations on our iPads and then have them directly to hand when giving feedback to the teachers. The additionality of being able to email the observations directly back to the teacher or other adults within the school, as well as being able to take snapshots of the class in progress, makes i-observe a great package. At our recent Ofsted inspection, I used i-observe on the joint observation and received extremely favourable comments from the lead Inspector.

“A great tool for observations within the classroom.”