Blueprint for the perfect teacher

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
Long-awaited and linked to performance pay, a new report by consultants HayMcBer tries to describe the model teacher. Nicolas Barnard introduces a five-page guide to a document that has generated huge interest among staff and managers.

SCIENTISTS: put away your test tubes. You will not be able to clone the perfect teacher from the report issued by the Government last week.

Teachers, on the other hand, might just be able to glean some pointers on how to be more effective in day-to-day work, and even plot the way ahead in their careers. That, at least, is the idea.

More than 200 pages long, weighing over a kilogram - and costing a reputed pound;4 million-plus - the HayMcBer report claims to offer the most complete definition of good teaching yet.

Born in controversy through its links with performance pay, it has produced a surprisingly positive response, and garnered huge interest from the profession even before it was published. The National Union of Teachers was astonished by the number of hits it received when it put part of the findings on its website.

And what does it conclude? The report has provided a menu or dictionary of qualities such as high expectations, good use of resources, good classroom management and planning. Both are underpinned by a range of attributes including thinking skills, an ability to understand and work with others and a drive for improvement.

That may not sound like rocket science, but if teachers are unsurprised by such well-rehearsed findings, that is partly because they themselves provided them. The research comes from in-depth interviews and observations of almost 200 teachers ranging from the effective to the outstanding.

What the report and commissioners at the Department for Education and Employment argue is that it sets out those attributes in greater detail than ever before, and in a framework that means it should be an easy-to-use tool for teachers and their managers planning their professional development.

The report sets out factors that cannot be used to predict a good teacher - age, gender, career history, qualifications (with some caveats about minimum standards) or type of school. Good teachers can be young, old, newly qualified, or experienced and work in good or bad schools. That will not help heads looking at candidates' CVs.

The Department for Education and Employment says the study is not prescriptive - but it may be used to set national standards.

It is being offered to teachers to help their professional development. But its early findings were used to set the standards for the new performance threshold which teachers must pass to get a pound;2,000 pay rise, and part of Hay's brief was to advise on how the threshold and performance management - the new appraisal system starting in September - could be introduced.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, says: "Hay has done a good job of identifying things. The problem they had was being linked to performance-related pay. It's unfortunate they were dragged into it. The Government should have settled the pay issue and then got on with performance development. Everybody would haveshown good will towards an interesting exercise in identifying the characteristics of effective teaching."

The DFEE hopes the results will be used in performance management, as teachers review their previous year and plan their training needs.

Managers will find useful the sections on lesson observation - with forms to analyse teachers' performance - as they get used to a regime where they will regularly see their staff in action.

Drawing on existing research and its experience in analysing other professions, HayMcBer has grouped its findings into three factors that influence pupil progress.

The first is a teacher's "professional characteristics" - the attitudes they bring to the job and their overall working style. The report found 16 attributes which contribute to effective teaching, including confidence, flexibility, and the ability to inspire trust in pupils. Teachers will be reassured that they do not need all of them all of the time, although the best use more of them more often and at a higher level.

Effective teaching requires the right skills combination. The report includes a "dictionary" of attributes, describing what level teachers should be operating at each career stage.

The second factor is teaching skills - a more detailed description of what a teacher does in class. It includes discussions with pupils, homework that takes lessons forward and coping with bad behaviour.

The last is classroom climate - how pupils feel about their lessons. A reflection of the first two factors, the report says it can be measured and used to help teachers gauge how they are doing - especially since they may not be as good at guessing how their pupils feel as they think.

In primary schools, outstanding teachers showed the same day-to-day skills as average colleagues - suggesting there was something deeper-seated that made them more effective.

Primary teachers also scored higher in classroom observations than secondary teachers. Hay suggests this is the result of training for the literacy and numeracy strategies - "though further research would be needed to establish a firm link".

In secondary schools, outstanding teachers were much better at using different strategies to motivate different pupils, and getting them to take responsibility for their own learning.

They linked lessons into the national curriculum and reviewed progress at the end of the lesson. Homework took the lesson on, and pupils understood what to achieve. Classroom support staff were also used well.

The findings have been validated by a detailed analysis of school and teacher data by DFEE adviser Professor David Reynolds of Exeter University, which concluded that the subjects of the study did indeed produce progress from their pupils. "We strongly support the view that teachers really do make a difference," the Hay report says.

A 60-page summary of the HayMcBer report can be found at The TES's own, concise guide is at High expectations

Strong management of time and resources

Good pupil assessment

Effective use of homework

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