From education to employment

What does your peer review do for you?

Inspection frequency, duration and intensity may change, but whatever happens, you’ll want to keep a handle on how good a deal your learners are getting. You might have some intense scrutiny in the form of internal or external review. If so, you’ll want it to be thorough, accurate, and usable. I’m stating the obvious here, I know.

Just sticking with the obvious for another point. Quality review, however you do it, can be expensive. The financial challenge we’re experiencing pushes an opportunity to reconsider that spend, exploring how we can save without loss, possibly contemplating the balance of internal and external review.

On the surface, external review looks most expensive. I’d love to delve into the reason I’m only saying ‘on the surface’ but can’t do it justice here. If it’s expensive we have to consider its effectiveness and what benefit it brings. It’s often that bit more objectivity, those ‘fresh’ eyes, that we’re after. We consider that there’s greater ‘truth’ to the impartial reviewer’s findings. Debatable again, but suffice to say that less bias is more likely with an external eye.

So an external eye gets the impartiality thumbs up. However, contemplate the cost of an external eye alongside the importance of really knowing our own provision well (rather than someone just telling us how it is) and outsourcing of review activity starts to become questionable.

So can we have an external eye that doesn’t cost quite so much and allows us to own the knowledge of our provision? Of course we can: Enter peer review. Ok, it’s probably not new to you. You’ve engaged in some peer review activity; worked with peer college colleagues and shared some best practice. But perhaps your peer review is a little dusty, left on the shelf a little too long, or some of its features unused.

You know peer review makes sense. It’s got huge potential, but sadly it often isn’t reached. Are you making the most of peer review or simply going through the motions? Let’s see. Does your peer review support you to:

  • Know your provision?
  • Self assess with ease?
  • Improve your practice?
  • Save money?
  • Develop your workforce?
  • Inspire those involved?
  • Spread some love?

Yes I said ‘spread some love’. I’m talking about the love of reflecting and improving upon teaching and learning practice. We’ll come back to this.

So, how did you do? Does your peer review do all this for you? If not, we’re missing huge opportunities, but it could be even worse. Is it possible that you are using precious time and resources only to have a negative impact? Ouch. Let’s consider the potential damage:

  • Wasted money / resource (because nothing changes)
  • Killing the culture you’re trying so hard to create (spreading the teaching and learning love)

Let’s use number 1 as a warm up before we get to the good loving. Quite simply, peer review takes up time. You don’t have time to waste. If peer review isn’t doing the basics and giving you a fair, thorough and accurate assessment of your provision, you are wasting money. Negative impact.

In case you’re still questioning whether your peer review does do its job or not, I want to share something with you so listen up. Whilst self-assessing the quality of learning (and I don’t just mean the end of year report writing), I’ve never ever known anyone volunteer findings from peer review as meaningful evidence. I’m not saying it’s not there, but I am questioning how well it’s used. Like I said. Wasted money.

Ok so I promised the good loving. Let’s explore ‘Killing the culture you’re trying to create’. If you are (I really hope you are, otherwise see me at break) working hard to develop a culture where all teachers appreciate observation and review activity, using it as a powerful tool for reflection and improvement, you don’t want anyone messing this up, right?

And yet we do allow it to happen. All it takes is one external reviewer to make an out of touch comment, to begin to sow a seed of fear or frustration. That one upset teacher on the receiving end of a questionable judgement or poor communication can shout very loudly. It’s so easy for that culture of love (openness, honesty, trust, respect) to turn into one of fear. Negative impact. The type that’s so hard to repair.

There’s huge potential out there to support self-regulation and peer review is just waiting to help us out. If we’re serious about developing the right culture we need to take the time to do peer review properly. If you’re going to spend anyway, spend wisely, develop key staff, increase dialogue between peer review members, let them know you’re vision and ensure they not only understand but can contribute towards it. Even better, perhaps they could share that vision.

Deborah McVey is managing director of Deborah McVey Ltd, providing training, coaching and consultancy support to the learning and skills sector, specialising in improving teaching, learning and assessment. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn


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