Evaluate, but First deFine your terms

20th July 2007 at 01:00
Having very little to do during my long (sic) summer vacation, I decided to spend some time reading the latest HMIE publication, How Good Is Our School 3? (HGIOS 3). I am surprised, to say the least, at the contradictions that permeate the document.

On June 23 last year, I had an article published in these pages, in which I attempted to explain the basic requirements to ensure that teachers have a mastery of the skills of critical reflection and self-evaluation. My views were founded on research carried out for my doctorate in 2005.

At that time, I expressed concerns that people had a confused idea of what exactly was meant by these skills. I argued that teachers required more than a basic knowledge of the concepts and suggested that, if teaching was to benefit from current interest in the idea, there had to be a sustained rigour in the approach to teaching self- evaluation in teacher training institutions.

Moreover, I emphasised the point that self-evaluation, if understood well and used wisely, was the approach that ultimately defined teachers as professionals and not merely as craftsmenwomen.

HGIOS 3 describes self-evaluation as neither bureaucratic nor mechanistic, but argues that it is a "reflective professional process" and suggests that teachers "naturally reflect in relation to their own responsibilities". These are debatable claims and worthy of comment.

While it is pleasing to read that self- evaluation is not to be considered bureaucratic or mechanistic, it is nevertheless the case that the process certainly as it is outlined in HGIOS 3 is underpinned (one could, perhaps, argue undermined) by the use of quality indicators and other advice on the curriculum, as well as on the results of research.

There is a clear softening in the tone of the language used in this document, compared with what was previously the case, but the fact remains that the use of quality indicators and other guidelines suggest a bureaucraticmechanistic view of self-evaluation, rather than a dialogical approach.

One is struck by the fact that HGIOS 3 in keeping with other official documentation such as The Standard for Initial Teacher Education and The Standard for Full Registration appears to regard critical reflection and self evaluation as more or less synonymous or at the very least interchangeable; they are not. Critical reflection is an integral characteristic of self evaluation, but it is not the same thing.

This crucial point seems not to have been appreciated in HGIOS 3. Moreover, the view that teachers reflect naturally is not one that stands up to any real scrutiny. Some teachers, perhaps many, will at times think about what they do, but this does not constitute reflection or self-evaluation.

As teachers, we should be careful when reading official documents that we are not too accepting of them, as if the authors know better than us about what is required in terms of our professional development, both in and out of classrooms. This is not always the case, as HGIOS 3 demonstrates.

Tom Greene teaches at St Ambrose High in Coatbridge

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