Hard to improve on a good teacher;Hot data;Briefing;Analysis

19th March 1999 at 00:00
Is "satisfactory" good enough when it comes to teaching quality? Much will depend upon your point of view.

Chris Woodhead's good news to the Secretary of State is that there was relatively little "poor or unsatisfactory" teaching at key stage 4. Indeed, the chief inspector's report, published last month, says that "poor teachers are rare" in secondary schools.

Where there was a significant amount of poor teaching was in information technology and religious education, according to Mr Woodhead. This may have been the result of observing higher than average numbers of unqualified teachers. The report should have elaborated.

The chief inspector also observed that newly-qualified teachers in the shortage subjects of maths, science and IT tended "to teach fewer good lessons than those in other subjects". This might suggest that teacher-trainers have given the benefit of the doubt to some potential teachers in these areas and that they are taking longer to develop as satisfactory teachers. With more rigorous vetting of training courses by OFSTED these apparently weaker teachers will be less likely to slip through in the future.

With so much good quality teaching now being observed by inspectors, the room for further improvement in exam results must be limited. The main gains will result from there being fewer just "satisfactory" teachers, and more good or very good ones.

Once again it appears that those subjects where recruitment has traditionally been easiest, such as English, art and PE had the highest percentages of good or very good teaching.

Despite all the evidence put forward by Mr Woodhead, it is still difficult to understand whether the small numbers of poor teachers were always unsatisfactory or whether they are a product of their environment.

With schools now being inspected for the second time, it might have been helpful if the report had identified whether and how teachers as well as pupils had made progress.

Are the 15,000 so called "incompetent" teachers the same ones as in 1996, or different ones? Any reason for previously competent teachers being added to the list must be something that requires explanation.

John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brooks University and runs an education research company. E-mail: int.edu@lineone.net

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