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Last reviewed on 20 July 2020
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School types: All · School phases: All

Plan and carry out a successful learning walk with our downloadable checklist, and use our suggested questions to interrogate the evidence and come up with future actions.

Learning walks vs. lesson observations

There is 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)
Criteria should be short, and more focused 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

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 do one.

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

Download our checklist to plan your learning walk

Ideas for areas to focus on  

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 to concentrate on during a learning walk, depending on the role of the observer, along with suggestions for activities. 

Analyse your findings and set actions

Questions to consider when analysing evidence

  • Is there evidence of anything being treated inconsistently 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 senior leadership team (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 templates in another article, along with additional questions to ask pupils during a learning walk.

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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