Until relatively recently (2018, to be exact), it was an Ofsted requirement that trainee teachers had to submit detailed lessons to inspectors. Thankfully, this has finally been changed and Ofsted have removed the need for inspectors to see lesson plans of trainee teachers.

The business of how detailed lesson plans need to be, or should be, is an ongoing debate. It tends to be schools who are judged to be requiring improvement or inadequate where the burden of excessive lesson planning seems to be the greater. Indeed, it’s one of the great ironies of a school being in Special Measures that its staff are subjected to even more ‘jumping through hoops’ – often (it could be argued) at the expense of actually trying to improve.

No school improves because its staff are forced to write detailed lesson plans, necessarily. In fact, detailed lesson planning can easily become a mindless paper exercise that serves little purpose whatsoever.

But, putting aside the question of whether a lesson plan should be 5 bullet points, 5 paragraphs or 5 pages long, a far more pertinent question remains: What does make for brilliant lesson planning?

The good news is that the answer is not complicated at all. As the saying goes, ‘it’s not rocket science.’ No, brilliant lesson planning is all about breaking things down and remembering a set of key questions to ask/actions to take. The advice would be the same for a trainee that has only been in the classroom for 6 weeks, or a seasoned pro who has been teaching for 26 years.

Know the pupils you are teaching

Knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have about a class before you start teaching it the better. Of course, this is likely to come in the form of ‘prior attainment data’ and there’s always a danger of ‘spreadsheet overkill’

There’s always a distinct possibility that what a class looks like ‘on paper’ and what it’s like when you are front of it are two very different entities – but data gives you a good start.

Anecdotal evidence about students, information about the dynamics of a class, particular needs, or strengths and weaknesses are often more useful than a few grades and marks on a spreadsheet.

As you begin teaching a class, you should never stop gathering knowledge about the pupils in it. This knowledge will only grow.

The trick is then to plan with all this knowledge in mind.

Know what the aim for the lesson is

Lesson planning has many pitfalls and traps lying in wait. A major one is focusing on lesson activities rather than the lesson aims. Trying to ‘reverse engineer’ objectives and aims to match an activity and its likely outcomes is destined to end in failure.

You should start with the aims and what you want pupils to achieve in a lesson, then find the activities that will help them do it.

Keep things simple

This doesn’t mean that all activities in a lesson should be simple, or that the work needs to be easy; but if you can’t articulate in a couple of quick sentences what the aim of lesson is then it is too complicated.

Focus on the learning

You need to have a relentless focus on the pupils and what they will learn in a lesson. Nothing else really matters. Too often, lesson planning is about ticking the boxes; but the only box that counts is learning!

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