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Staff offer up modest secrets of success

Good teachers are self-deprecating perfectionists who put a premium on being trusted by management, according to a new survey of staff in top-performing schools.

The study, commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, is intended to pinpoint the sort of conditions of service and school ethos that are most conducive to good teaching.

It involved interviews with 100 teachers in nine primary and six secondary schools, all of which had been deemed successful by the Office for Standards in Education.

Asked to assess their own merit on a five-point scale, the teachers gave themselves a lower mark than their heads had done. They also tended to believe that the way they were treated by management, together with the ethos of the school, had a profound effect on pupils' performance - for instance, teachers who were trusted by their heads and allowed plenty of autonomy were more likely to encourage their pupils to think for themselves: "I can inspire the children. I know this because they take things beyond what I ask."

The teachers all showed similar qualities; they were conscientious, highly motivated and saw teaching as a vocation. All were keenly aware of their own weak points, remarking, for instance, that they were too inclined to make excuses for the children, or "indulge in a plethora of worksheets without quite thinking it out."

All were adamant that good teaching was impossible without supportive heads and deputies.

Conditions of Success - a feasibility study by Ralph Tabberer, Jack Sanger and Cathy Whalen for the National Foundation for Educational Research.

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