Learning walks: how-to guide

Plan and carry out a successful learning walk with our downloadable checklist and suggested areas of focus and activities by role. Use our questions to interrogate the evidence and come up with future actions.

Last reviewed on 27 September 2022
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 35965
Contents
  1. Learning walks vs. lesson observations
  2. Why do a learning walk?
  3. Download our checklist to plan your learning walk
  4. Decide on your area of focus
  5. Analyse your findings and set actions
  6. Learning walk templates and questions to ask pupils

Learning walks vs. lesson observations

There's no single definition for how a learning walk differs from a lesson observation, but there are some commonly accepted differences:

Learning walk

Lesson observation

Supports whole-school improvement, and/or 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 10-20 minutes in each lesson Longer - usually around 30 minutes to an hour, or a full lesson
Informal Formal, with detailed feedback given afterwards to explain judgements

Both of these should always be used in conjunction with other evidence, such as discussions with teachers, pupil questionnaires, and work scrutinies. 

Why do a learning walk?

  • To get a clear picture of what's happening across the school in terms of quality of provision
  • To drill down into a particular aspect of provision (for example, comparing the progress of boys and girls, looking at the development of writing across the school, or checking that a policy is being implemented consistently)
  • To identify training needs and areas for professional development
  • To help teachers get used to having others in the classroom, making formal lesson observations less daunting

Learning walks can also help you and your senior leadership team (SLT) save time by reducing the amount of formal lesson observations you carry out. Read our case study about how 1 school has used learning walks to cut down on workload.  

How often can I do a learning walk?

As with lesson observations, there are no statutory requirements to carry out a certain number of learning walks, or a limit on how many you can do.

However, unions may have their own views on what qualifies as a 'learning walk' and how frequently you can carry them out.

For example, the NEU counts learning walks towards the maximum number of observations it expects teachers to have.

Be aware of teacher wellbeing

Learning walks can help staff become used to being observed, but be careful that the practice doesn't become a source of stress for them. Make sure you:

  • Avoid having too many observers - the NEU suggests having a maximum of 2 
  • Consider whether you need to visit staff who are already undergoing capability or disciplinary procedures 
  • Give staff plenty of notice
  • Communicate the purpose of the learning walk clearly, and make it clear that you're not judging individual performance 
  • Let staff know when and how you will share the outcomes

Download our checklist to plan your learning walk

Decide on your area of focus

Learning walks are most effective when they have a specific focus. This is especially true if you want to conduct several learning walks over a period of time and compare the results.

Download our suggestions for areas of focus, depending on the role of the observer, along with associated activities. 

Analyse your findings and set actions

Questions to consider when analysing evidence

  • Are there any areas of inconsistency across subjects?
  • What elements of good practice have you seen in [area of focus, e.g. 'questioning']? How will you share this with all staff?
  • What areas for development have you observed? How will you share this with all staff?
  • Does the information show that any school policy or procedure is not being followed by staff?
  • Are appropriate levels of [area of focus, e.g. peer-to-peer learning] seen 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?

Setting future actions

  • Explain the purpose of the learning walk and what overall trends were noticed across the school in a staff memo. Following the memo, discuss the findings at a staff meeting, to ensure all staff are engaged with the purpose and outcome(s) of the learning walk, while giving them a chance to feed back  
  • If the learning walk highlighted issues with the practice of specific teachers, set up a face-to-face meeting with those concerned as soon as possible. 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 may find you need to change, revise or review a school policy after a learning walk. Any changes to school policies must be followed up with staff training to encourage engagement and awareness
  • You'll only need to prepare a written report if multiple SLT members are conducting simultaneous learning walks. If your governors conduct a learning walk, they'll need to write a report for the SLT

Learning walk templates and questions to ask pupils

Download our learning walk templates to help you observe lessons effectively. They are based on Ofsted's criteria and cover walks based on specific areas, along with additional questions to ask pupils during a learning walk.

Read our advice on how to spot effective questioning during learning walks for more support.

Sources

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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