Just leave us alone;Talkback

27th March 1998 at 00:00
The Government should not meddle with teacher appraisal, argues Colin Butler

I have been running my school's appraisal system since it began, and I have to say that Schools Minister Estelle Morris couldn't be more wrong ("Minister takes firm line on appraisal", TES, March 6). Take this nonsense about teachers having to be appraised every year. Where is the time for that?

I am appraising a colleague in the context of departmental requisitions, A-level coursework grading, the aftermath of an OFSTED inspection and, somewhere down the line, actual teaching. Estelle Morris should know that, thanks to constant government interference, every day in teaching is a crash day. And still we get this dumped on us.

Then there is this bit about line managers carrying out appraisal. That beggars belief. My policy is never to involve line managers, since they create all the wrong pressures. Can you imagine teachers always talking openly and in confidence to their boss - especially if they want to talk about their boss? This has to be a non-starter.

In fact, the reason I, a mere head of English, run this school's appraisal system and not some deputy is precisely because the head, with characteristic sense, saw that line management was not the structure for a sensitive matter like appraisal. Dead right too, as time has shown.

As for linking appraisal to pay and promotion, well, that says it all. Appraisal a la Morris will not provide any relevant information about any teacher that is not available anyway. If I want to know what my colleagues in the English department are up to, I can sit in their classes, go through their exercise books, read the exam boards' breakdowns for results or listen to their pupils. And the head can do the same to me. There is no hiding place. And that in turn means that the need for appraisal to be (mis)used in the way Estelle Morris proposes just isn't there.

So why do it? The answer - that teachers are not to be trusted - goes to the heart of all that is wrong in education today. The national curriculum tells them what to think, OFSTED tells them what to do and now boss-led appraisal will tell them where they've gone wrong. Isn't that inspired?

Recruitment and retention are in a bad way, and education desperately needs top quality people who can think for themselves, so what it gets is yet more top quality cobblers from the Department for Education and Employment. If anyone still thinks teaching means professional satisfaction in a framework of accountability, they had better think again - fast. It's about doing as you are told.

Appraisal as it stands is a good thing. It is the one official opportunity that teachers have to take a long look at what they are doing with someone who is sympathetic and not part of the disciplinary framework. It is worth defending and, where necessary, improving. What it does not need is being converted to assessment.

Estelle Morris says that she wants major consultations before finalising the regulations, but I bet that all she really wants is guidance on implementation. I know these consultations of old: the one thing you can never challenge is the assumptions.

However, in this case, they need challenging. So I say to Estelle Morris: "Full accountability is already in place in schools. You do not have to turn appraisal into assessment. Leave it alone."

Colin Butler is senior English master and master responsible for appraisalat Borden Grammar School, Sittingbourne, Kent

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