Lay down your whips

13th July 2012 at 01:00

One of the teaching unions is unhappy about headteachers monitoring their staff, and is making quite a fuss about it. I can't imagine the general public offering much sympathy. Aren't managers supposed to manage? Shouldn't teachers be kept up to speed by senior leaders? Even the TES editor, in a recent column, suggested that it is just about the last thing a union should be complaining about. Which, on the surface, seems a perfectly valid view, but there is rather more to it than that.

It seems to me that the current breed of headteacher is encouraged to be something of a whip wielder. Trusting your teaching staff to know what they are doing is naive, and if you don't keep a watch on them they are liable to slacken off. You, or your senior leaders, need to make them accountable. They need to realise they will be monitored and assessed regularly, with frequent classroom clipboard visits and a performance management session a couple of times a year. It is almost as if teachers are the enemy, and an increasing number of heads are becoming aggressively demanding.

Many years ago, during an Ofsted inspection, the lead inspector asked to see my teacher monitoring sheets. I explained that I didn't have any. "Don't you do any monitoring, then?" she asked. "How do you ensure your teachers are reaching the standards you expect?"

I spent the next 20 minutes explaining in great detail. First, I chose teachers with enormous care. They had to be lively, highly creative people who loved being with children and had a real passion for helping them learn. They had to be interesting people in their own right, with a great sense of humour and a commitment to the school and its ethos. During their first half-term at my school, I popped in to their classroom regularly, sometimes to join in with a lesson, sometimes to chat to the children about what they were doing. I made sure the teacher understood I was coming into the classroom out of interest, not because I wanted to judge them or spy on them. I looked on them as professionals who understood their trade, and although I expected them to fit in with the various philosophies and practices we had developed so successfully, I also gave them much scope to express themselves individually. Whether NQT or experienced practitioner, I valued their views and opinions. And if someone did happen to be struggling a little, my style of mentoring meant I could give them far more of my time.

But this was not good enough for the inspector. I should have been monitoring each teacher regularly, using an Ofsted-approved format. A lesson observation should be followed up with a discussion, before being recorded, signed and filed. I told her that we would have to agree to differ, and she put a little cross on her tick chart. Not at all satisfactory.

But after the inspection I decided to give it a try. Would it make a difference if I inspected everybody regularly, in the approved manner? I devised a form and used Tuesday afternoons to monitor my teachers. Over the next term, I participated in some truly amazing lessons, and learned nothing I did not already know about my staff. I carefully wrote up the lessons I saw, the teachers signed the sheets ... and after a term we had had enough and went back to the way we were doing things previously.

Why? Because it worked, and it was a much more efficient use of my time.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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