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Class spies come in from the cold

STAFF NOW feel "comfortable with, indeed confident, about" any senior member of staff joining in class lessons, Elma Watson, principal teacher of home economics, at Carrick Academy, South Ayrshire, told a conference last week on the Scottish Quality Initiative.

At first teachers had been concerned about classroom work being observed but fears had been allayed, Mrs Watson said.

"In fact, members of my department are quite well known for detaining any member of the senior management," she told a conference in Edinburgh run by the Scottish Office and the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

Staff were taking on board the self-evaluation model espoused by How Good Is Our School?, the package of audit processes now common across Scotland and heavily supported by HMI.

Teachers accepted senior management in schools had a right to scrutinise performance in lessons based on agreed criteria. Managers would gather evidence from talking to pupils, workbooks, looking at resources, methodology and homework. Staff would also assess their own lessons.

"After discussion, the action required was detailed under the heading, 'Things to stop doing, things to keep doing and things to start doing'," Mrs Watson said.

Information was fed into the school development plan and the department's own review and its standards and quality review.

Mrs Watson has been part of a team put together by South Ayrshire to develop performance indicators for A route to effective learning and teaching, a forthcoming publication to add to the Inspectorate's series on self-audit. The report is jointly published by the council and HMI.

Self-evaluation had been gradual, not too ambitious and had allowed staff to become accustomed to new terminology and workload.

Discussions took place on team teaching, classroom observation and completing self-evaluation grids. Staff were now used to departmental review and saw it as "non-threatening and accepted good practice". It was part of improving schools and raising attainment.

The conference saw the launch of two further HMI publications, A Route to Equality and and Fairness, a joint South Ayrshire report, and Advice for schools and education authorities on school-based standards and quality reports.

Wray Bodys, from HMI's Audit Unit, said that self-evaluation was an area where schools welcomed sharing experiences and learning from others who had different approaches.

WHAT THEY LOOK FOR IN SOUTH AYRSHIRE

* Use of variety in teaching approaches, learning experiences and activities.

* Maximum use of direct teaching.

* Opportunities for dialogue between teacher and pupil and among pupils themselves as well as an appropriate balance of whole-class, group work and individual activities.

* Consistency in teaching methods used throughout stages, departments and the whole school.

* Teaching and learning methods influenced by information gathered from appropriate assessment.

* Explanation and demonstration with the whole class, groups and individuals.

* Pupils should be grouped appropriately for different types of learning activities.

Taken from 'A route to effective learning and teaching', to be published with HMI

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