Learning walks: guidance, templates and questions

Your one-stop-shop to plan and carry out a successful learning walk, using our suggested focus areas, checklist and templates. Get to grips with how to successfully analyse your findings and plan future actions.

Last reviewed on 22 August 2023See updates
School types: AllSchool phases: AllRef: 35965
Contents
  1. Why do a learning walk? 
  2. How often should I do a learning walk?
  3. Use our checklist to plan your learning walk
  4. You could have another member of staff accompany you
  5. Download templates to help you observe and question most effectively
  6. Analyse your findings and set actions
  7. Experiment with alternatives to a learning walk

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

Learning walk

Lesson observation

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)
Breadth - a general look at the application of a topic or approach across the schoolDepth - a more thorough look at an aspect of teaching and learning in a classroom or lesson
Short - around 10-15 minutes in each lessonLonger - usually around 30 minutes, but it could be a whole lesson
Informal - providing an overview of an aspect of the schoolFormal - usually with detailed feedback 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. 

KeyDoc: planning a learning walk checklist DOC, 193.5 KB

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.

KeyDoc: learning walks for professional development DOC, 191.5 KB

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.

Multi-focus

Environment and behaviour

Effective questioning

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)

Special educational needs (SEN) provision

Questions to ask pupils

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. 

Peer coaching

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.

Sources

Bernard Abrams is an education consultant and former headteacher who previously worked as a school inspector.

David New, an education consultant, was the headteacher of a large secondary school for nine years. He has particular expertise in lettings, staffing, academy conversion and the secondary curriculum.

Deborah Zachary is an education consultant with considerable experience of inspecting primary, secondary and special schools.

Gulshan Kayembe is an independent consultant who has experience of inspecting schools. She provides mentoring for senior leaders and has worked as an external adviser on headteachers’ performance management.

Jeremy Bird has extensive experience of primary headship. He's also worked with local authorities and published guidance for new and aspiring headteachers and senior leaders.

Lorraine Petersen was previously the chief executive of Nasen and a primary school headteacher.

Neil Hemmings is an education consultant and former secondary headteacher. He specialises in pupil wellbeing, school improvement and the professional development of staff.

Nina Siddall-Ward is an education consultant. She is the former head of standards and learning effectiveness for a large local authority. She has been a headteacher in three schools.

Sally Cope is a former SENCO and inclusion manager. She has a range of leadership experiences in primary schools.

Article Updates

22 August 2023

The DfE clarified to us that information about admission arrangements must be published on an individual school's website, including for schools within a multi-academy trust (MAT), as this is where parents are most likely to look for this information. We recommend that this information is also published on the trust's website. We've reflected this in our checklists.

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