An Inspector Writes

3rd November 1995 at 00:00
How can an inspector recognise a good teacher who is having a "bad" day?

This question seems particularly pertinent in the light of the added emphasis on teaching quality in the new Inspection Framework.

Some HMI are concerned enough about the possibility of good teachers having off days bad enough to belie their true ability to caution against the use of the inspection process to identify failing teachers.

Conversely, it is suggested, incompetent teachers could put on such a good performance that they appear much better than they are, I believe this implies a simplistic view of the nature of teaching and the way in which inspection is intended to work.

There is little doubt that teachers of high quality do experience days when things go wrong. Indeed, even in the same day, for the most consistent of teachers, some lessons will be conspicuously more successful than others.

Various factors will be responsible for this: attempts to implement over- ambitious teaching and learning objectives, the adventurous or unorthodox learning opportunity carefully planned but ineffectual in practice, the difficulties of exploring challenging concepts or teaching complex skills, working in a relatively unfamiliar curriculum area, poor health, an exuberant or fractious class, the reactions of disruptive pupils.

In addition, many teachers are genuinely unnerved by the presence of observers, especially those inspecting professional competence.

This may apply with particular force to primary teachers who face the formidable prospect of being evaluated in a number of lessons over a wide range of subjects.

But lessons are not auditions. Of course, good teachers often call upon the performer's arts: energy, vitality and projection in presentation, sharp timing, flexibility and a capacity for improvisation, sensitivity to an audience and the skills to engage, stimulate and exhilarate them, a gift for the memorable effect and the arresting phrase. Such qualities may well be the ones most likely to falter under the strain of inspection.

But good teaching is infinitely deeper, more subtle and complex. It seeks to take the learner beyond mere captivation to intellectual fascination, to an appreciation of myriad ideas and possibilities, the acquisition of competences and skills, and, through all of it, a realisation of undreamt of personal potential.

Such teaching calls for equally subtle and perceptive inspection that takes account, in its judgments, of a whole range of contributory matters that lie outside the immediate execution of the lesson itself. The new framework reminds us that inspectors will look for evidence of:

* detailed and consistent planning, with evaluative strategies, not merely for individual lessons, but for sequences designed to achieve continuity, progression and achievement in learning over periods of time;

* the nature and quality of pupils' earlier work and the indication it provides of progress made;

* the way in which teachers interact with individual and groups of pupils, and that the treatment and marking of work conveys high expectations, supportive and encouraging attitudes and a concern for improvement and achievement;

* illuminating and challenging environments and opportunities provided over time,rather than overnight, to provide for on-going learning;

* the teacher's personal enthusiasm and subject expertise, their persistent concern to stimulate and nurture learning;

* positive and supportive relationships with children that flourish only with gradual nurturing, and reflect the mutual regard and enthusiasm of teacher and learner.

It is the capacity to provide for these that makes good teachers and teaching and it will most surely endure and shine through whatever off days or bad days may befall.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Questions should be sent to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY

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