We use cookies for core functionality, multimedia content and collecting usage data to help us improve.

Unseen observations project at Aylesbury FE college, part 2

Unseen observations, coaching and HOW2s are proving to be a powerful hybrid for professional learning at Aylesbury college.

The Aylesbury Project, part 1

Over a year ago, I visited Sarah and Paula Sarah to talk about Unseen Observations. During the day, we also napkin sketched how this project might develop. 

Since then, they have put the plan into action and, as is customary, it became simplified as it encounters reality. In essence, some of the separate steps have merged together.

Also, as a result of the meetings between teacher and coach being centred around the teacher’s problem of practice, the theme of behaviour management has emerged as the central area for development.

Below is the original napkin sketch plan.

The demise of graded observations

Dr Matt O'Leary

Teachers owe Dr Matt O’Leary a huge debt. For a decade he has been researching, writing and giving talks about the practice of graded observations. Indeed his UCU Lesson Observation Project was the most comprehensive piece of research on the topic in English education.

Such detailed, data-filled accounts of the problematic — if not counter-productive — nature of graded observations caught the attention of Mike Cladingbowl, former Ofsted Director for Schools. Matt was invited to talk to Ofsted about his research findings.

As a direct result of these talks, things started to happen, resulting in the eventual withdrawal of graded observations from inspectors’ practice. 

During this period, Matt also had his book Classroom Observation published (catch it at Amazon here). While it summarised his research findings it also provided some clever alternatives and solutions, one of which were unseen observations.

The emergence of unseen observations

Yes, the title is a winner, if a little beguiling. And, yes it is an accurate description of this innovative approach to observations. Teacher-friendly, time-efficient, low-cost and highly effective, this approach offers a creative route for all staff and particularly cash-strapped schools and colleges. A previous blog post, Coaching with Unseen Observations in a Nutshell, summarises how it all works in practice.

The Aylesbury approach

Putting teachers’ thinking and experiences at the centre has made a big difference. Its personalised approach exemplifies the college’s vision of holistic teacher development, says deputy principal Fiona Morey.

The combination of not being observed along with the opportunity to discuss the underlying thinking behind the practice, has elevated professional conversations beyond a mere friendly chat. By placing the teacher’s thinking centre stage, previously unstated assumptions become discussed and investigated. 

Below is the updated napkin sketch of the approach to unseen observations.


More than an Ofsted success

Hackney Community College earned an inspection grade 2 on the new framework, up from its previous grade 3. HOW2s played a part in this.

Read article