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Persona grata;Briefing;Research focus

The role of teaching strategies and measurement in improving standards in schools continues to attract attention, but my own research confirms that the personal qualities of teachers are also crucially important.

My study of pupil perceptions of "good" teachers was carried out at the independent girls' secondary school where I am deputy head. Seven pupils were chosen at random from each year (Years 7-13) and were asked to carry out a writing task, rate a list of descriptors and complete a personal questionnaire.

In the free-writing task pupils were invited to state what makes a good teacher. The rating task consisted of 30 words or phrases describing good teachers. These were obtained from two sources: the inspection module produced by the Office for Standards in Education, and the "My Best Teacher" articles in The TES between September 1997 and March 1998.

The free response and rating tasks produced similar results. According to the 49 pupils questioned, personal qualities constituted half of the most important characteristics of good teachers. "Making lessons enjoyable and fun" was considered very important, and teachers who "explain clearly" were very highly rated.

Pupils valued caring, understanding and approachable teachers. Staff who were humorous, fair, and with respect were also considered good.

Although higher and lower-achieving girls appeared to share the same views there were differences between older and younger pupils. Teachers who are approachable and willing to talk, for example, were more highly rated by pupils in Years 11 and 13.

Of the 10 teaching qualities listed in the OFSTED inspection module, pupils only considered three to be important characteristics of a good teacher.

They were: "explains clearly", "knows their subject" and "marks work and comments on it".

My research suggests that the personality of teachers and the quality of their relationship with pupils largely determine the effectiveness of their teaching. This has repercussions for training because it suggests that developing personal qualities should be at least as important as practising appropriate teaching techniques.

Jenifer Taylor is deputy head of Polam Hall School, Darlington. Mrs Taylor undertook her research as part of a master's degree at Durham University

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