Judge not on results but ability;Opinion

1st October 1999 at 01:00
Not only did the process to find the

country's best teacher help raise the morale of the profession, it could also teach the Government a thing or two about appraisal, argues Nigel de Gruchy

THE RECENT National Teaching Awards were generally hailed as a great success for raising the profile of the profession in a positive way. They also served another purpose, which was perhaps accidental but is very topical. It has to do with the Green Paper and performance-related pay.

The teaching awards showed that it was possible to identify good classroom teaching, among many other things. Good practitioners were identified, nominated and went through to regional qualifying rounds with the winners making it to the national finals.

My understanding is that, with perhaps one or two exceptions, the teachers so identified were not the subject of controversy and accusations of "divisiveness" in their staffrooms. Indeed, in most of the cases the nominations were enthusiastically backed by other members of staff.

The lesson is that unlike some of the Government's proposals in the Green Paper - reiterated in its submission to the teachers' pay body last week - the successful teachers were not identified through crude methods of examining pupil outcomes or the achievement of objectives set.

The national judging panel, of which I was a member, developed a fairly simple list of criteria and weightings which were effectively applied in practice, although everyone recognised that they were not perfect. I suspect no set of criteria could ever be.

Judges chose the winners based on those qualities teachers bring to the profession. Enthusiasm for their subjects, an imaginative use of innovative or traditional teaching methods, and encouraging those that find it harder to learn than others were all key criteria.

Teachers who adapt their methods to suit individual needs, generate stimulating discussion and inspire and command the respect of pupils and colleagues scored highly. Combine this with effective communication with parents, raising morale in the staffroom and contributing to the school's ethos, and you have many of the ingredients of an excellent teacher.

Judges did not have to over-

investigate to identify good practice. One could spend days and weeks observing teachers but in most cases you get a pretty accurate picture after one or two periods of observation. There is no need for overcomplicated bureaucratic systems of appraisal to identify good teachers. School visits by judges were necessary and proved decisive in selecting the winner from all the other excellent candidates.

My union would prefer to judge teachers according to input - the skills and qualities they bring to their lessons. This can work well and is not viewed as divisive, and, furthermore, is entirely consistent with collegiality.

The essential point is that the Government could achieve its objective of identifying and rewarding good classroom practice using the kind of model put forward by the NASUWT and to a certain extent used in the teaching awards.

The majority of teachers would support an appraisal system which takes account of their knowledge, skills and abilities they put into their work. There is no need to incorporate pupil results which is proving to be so controversial.

;Teachers everywhere will be desperately disapointed that the Government, in its latest evidence to the review body, is continuing to insist on retaining references to payment by pupil results. Indeed, if this one massive point of controversy were removed, I believe the Government could transform the atmosphere overnight. We could, in partnership, take forward the proposals even though there are some other difficult issues to be resolved.

The Government really ought to consider whether this would be a much better way forward. Proceeding on the basis of widespread agreement is possible through the kind of approach exemplified by the awards. The other route, incorporating pupil results, leads only to controversy and disagreement.

The judges' chief difficulty was to identify one teacher as the overrall winner. Difficult judgments had to be made, but of course that would not apply to the Green Paper's "threshold" where all who came up to the required standard would be "winners".

So long as we get the technical matters and finance right, teachers should be confident. After all, the Prime Minister, Education Secretary and chief inspector keep saying "that the overwhelming majority of teachers do an excellent job".

The teaching awards have shown that a formula can work. I suggest that the Government takes heed and reassesses its own highly contentious proposal to include pupil results in the equation.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers

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