Why do a learning walk?
So you can:
- Get a clear picture of what's happening across the school in terms of quality and consistency of provision
- Drill down into a particular aspect of provision (for example, comparing the progress of certain groups, looking at the development of writing across the school, or checking that a policy is consistently implemented)
- Identify training needs and areas for professional development
- Help teachers get used to having others in the classroom, making formal lesson observations less daunting
- Save time by reducing the number of more time-consuming formal lesson observations needed
|Supports whole-school improvement, and provides evidence for a school improvement plan (SIP)||Makes evaluations of individuals, for a range of purposes (such as appraisal or monitoring a department's performance)|
|Focuses on a specific area||More thorough|
|Short - around 10-15 minutes in each lesson||Longer - usually around 30 minutes, but it could be a whole lesson|
|Informal||Formal, with detailed feedback given afterwards to explain judgements|
Whether you do a learning walk or lesson observation, you'll want to couple it with other evidence, such as:
- Discussions with teaching staff
- Pupil questionnaires
- Work scrutiny
How often should I do a learning walk?
As with lesson observations, there are no statutory requirements to carry out learning walks, or a limit on how many you can do.
However, unions may have their own view on what qualifies as a 'learning walk' and how frequently you can carry them out.
For example, the National Education Union (NEU) counts learning walks towards the maximum number of observations it expects teachers to have. It suggests a maximum of 3 per year for all purposes, not exceeding 3 hours in total.
Consider teacher wellbeing
Learning walks can help staff become more used to being observed, but be careful this doesn't become a source of stress. Make sure you:
- Don’t have too many observers – the NEU suggests a maximum of 2
- Give people plenty of notice. Ideally learning walks should be planned annually in accordance with the school improvement plan. Remind staff at least 1 week before
- Explain the purpose of the learning walk, reminding staff that you're not judging individual performance (individual performance could be looked at with lesson observations)
- Let staff know when and how you will share any outcomes
- Don't visit staff who are undergoing capability or disciplinary procedures
Use our checklist to plan your learning walk
Learning walks should be focused to make them most effective.
You might want to conduct more than 1 learning walk over the course of a year, and compare the results.
You could have another member of staff accompany you
This can be a useful professional development exercise for your staff. Align the focus with their needs, perhaps identified through appraisal.
Download our suggestions for areas of focus, with associated activities, for different roles in your school.
Download templates to help you observe and question most effectively
Select a template below based on the focus of your learning walk, and adapt it to your school's context and the focus of each learning walk.
Share it with anyone accompanying you. Plan how long you intend to stay in each area of school, so you have an appropriate focus and questions.
This template includes prompts covering:
- Learning environment
- Differentiation and challenge
- Marking and assessment
- Work scrutiny
Environment and behaviour
Use these templates for learning walks that are specifically about your school environment – including classroom displays – or pupil behaviour (for example, how behaviour is managed).
See our evaluating the primary school classroom checklist for more ideas.
Use this to help you spot high-quality questioning techniques in the classroom.
It includes examples of best practice you can look out for, including:
- Open and closed questions
- Engaging 'hooks' that motivate pupils to want to learn more
- Critical thinking opportunities
- Assessing pupils' prior knowledge
- 'Bloom's taxonomy' styles of questioning – lower and higher order thinking skills
Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
Use this template to look at how your EYFS provision supports the 7 areas of learning and development (see the EYFS statutory framework, paragraphs 1.3 to 1.5).
This is specifically for use in EYFS. You may also want to look at your EYFS provision as part of the whole school, using any of the other templates.
Special educational needs (SEN) provision
You or your SENCO should use this is to look at SEN provision through your school.
It's best to focus on one aspect of provision at a time. For example, your learning walk could aim to:
- Understand the journey of a specific pupil by tracking them throughout the school day
- Determine whether staff need specific training
- Discover whether pupils have specific behaviour issues, and establish how these can be addressed or supported
- Assess the effectiveness of adaptations and interventions, for individuals as well as trends across the school. This includes wall displays, seating arrangements and the use of teaching assistants
Questions to ask pupils
Use these question prompts during a learning walk to evaluate aspects of your school, such as teaching and learning, how your policies are being applied and differentiation.
Analyse your findings and set actions
Once you've completed a learning walk, reflect and ask yourself some important questions
- Are there any areas of inconsistency across subjects?
- This may be in planning, expectations or delivery. If there are inconsistencies, what are the impacts on pupil learning and progress?
- What elements of good practice have you seen in [area of focus, e.g. 'questioning']? How will you share this with all staff?
- Don't forget to follow this up, making sure good practice is spreading
- What areas for development have you observed? How will you share this with all staff?
- These will need planning into your school improvement cycle
- Does the information show that any school policy or procedure is not being followed by staff?
- Do policies need to be reviewed or staff need reminding?
- Are appropriate levels of [area of focus, e.g. peer-to-peer learning] seen across the school?
- You should see progression across the school
- Are the strengths and areas for development identified in the learning walks, consistent with the priorities in the school improvement plan and/or entries in the self-evaluation form?
- Do priorities need to be adjusted?
- Can you share any positive messages about what you've seen?
Share your feedback
- Explain the purpose of the learning walk and what you found. Discuss this at a staff meeting so that staff understand the purpose and outcome(s) of the learning walk and have a chance to feedback
- Make sure you share any positive findings
- Be clear about any areas you would like to develop further, explaining how these will fit into your school improvement cycle
- Plan carefully for any difficult conversations
- Meet face to face, as soon as possible, with anyone where the learning walk highlighted specific issues. Include a Key Stage leader or member of the SLT. Follow up the meeting with a formal lesson observation to ensure practice has improved. Remember that learning walks shouldn't be used for appraisal purposes
- You'll only need to prepare a written report if there are multiple simultaneous learning walks. If your governors conduct a learning walk, they'll need to write a report
You may also find you need to review or adapt a school policy following a learning walk. Any changes should be followed up with staff training.
Experiment with alternatives to a learning walk
Learning walks are an effective tool for school improvement. But bear in mind that, even though they're less formal than lesson observations, staff can still find them to be a stressful experience.
Teachers support each other with problem solving, observations, shared teaching and planning. This improves skills through reflection and collaboration, and also helps to develop an effective learning culture.
Talk for teaching
Paul Garvey has developed talk for teaching as an innovative approach to CPD. It focuses on improving the quality of teaching by enabling teachers to work together and discuss pedagogy.