Astute heads of department can use performance assessment criteria to schools' and teachers' advantage, says Paul Hammond
Many teachers have condemned proposals for performance threshold assessment as divisive and a threat to co-operation. But wise heads of department can use them as a framework to improve departmental performance and strengthen professional ties.
To meet the standards of the five threshold criteria (see box), teachers will have to demonstrate the skills needed to engage students and help raise attainment.
Department heads have an obvious interest in developing a capable team. They can contribute by, for example:
* stimulating dialogue about effective teaching and learning;
* using performance data to set challenging but realistic expectations;
* contributing to the promotion of whole-school curriculum initiatives;
* providing effective support on behavioural problems.
These measures - and others like them - will help to establish a professional working environment within which individual teachers can flourish and standards will rise.
The department head could now be in the position of head coach - directing and supervising, but also explaining, encouraging and supporting. This would create a kind of corporate launching pad, allowing the team to jump across the threshold together.
Many of these ideas rely on team members sharing good practice. For example:
* you share your teaching ideas at department meetings, and we divide up the modules for updating the Year 9 work scheme;
* you observe and offer feedback on my Year 8 lesson, and we'll work out a way of getting more boys up to level 5 in the Year 9 group we share.
To help staff develop "knowledge and understanding", heads of department can make sure the subject of sharing teaching strategies is raised at departmental meetings. Membership of a subject association is another good source of news about innovations.
In "teaching and assessment", subject leaders can ensure that collaboratively written, detailed schemes of work are used to organise the key elements of teaching and learning. These documents should encourage teachers to broaden their teaching styles, and provide a guide for classroom assistants.
The contentious "pupil progress" will be easier to handle if subject leaders use value-added and benchmark data. Department heads can share analyses, building teachers' "data literacy". The "autumn package" of DfEE statistics provides several subject-specific charts that will help staff set individual student targets that take into account baseline performance.
For "wider professional effectiveness", subject laders can ensure that in-service training and research are shared. Colleagues should also be encouraged to apply wider curriculum initiatives by taking an active role in whole-school working parties.
In the final standard of "effective professional characteristics", threshold candidates need the chance to lead small-scale initiatives carefully matched to their knowledge and abilities. This will help them experience the team-building and analytical thinking they need to cross the threshold.
But the greatest influence on any department's professional characteristics will be its leader. Department heads need to be recognised as "leading professionals" across the staff as a whole. When the team members themselves propagate, modify and personalise their vision and values, the department becomes more single-minded about making progress.
Teachers will have to take the threshold initiative and make it work to their advantage. But there is much in these proposals that department heads can use to raise standards while maintaining the team spirit that characterises any department worth its salt.
Paul Hammond is a deputy headteacher at Tring school in Hertfordshire. His website, www.hod.org.uk, is a resource for secondary subject leaders He can be contacted by e-mailat firstname.lastname@example.org
To cross the threshold, you must meet standards in five categories. These are:
Knowledge and understanding
* Demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the teaching of your subject(s), taking account of relevant wider curriculum developments Teaching and assessment
You must show ability to: * Plan lessons to meet pupils' individual learning needs
* Use a range of appropriate strategies for teaching and classroom management
* Use prior attainment to set well-grounded expectations for pupils and monitor progress to give constructive feedback
* Show improvement in pupils' achievement which matches or betters that of similar pupils nationally. Results from relevant national tests or exams or school-based assessment will be used as a measure.
Wider professional effectiveness
* Take responsibility for your professional development, using the outcomes to improve teaching and learning
* Make an active contribution to the policies and aspirations of your school
* Demonstrate that you are an effective professional who challenges and supports all pupils to do their best through inspiring trust and confidence; building team commitment; engaging and motivating pupils; analytical thinking; taking positive action to improve the quality of pupils' learning