Not in front of the inspector

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Incompetence exists in every profession and teaching is no exception. OFSTED inspections, it is now being claimed, will make the identification of failing teachers possible.

In my experience, teachers cover the incompetence of other teachers. We stick together as a profession and support each other against the ravages of the latest condemnation denigrating the profession.

While we'll acknowledge the incompetence of a colleague behind closed doors, we are reluctant to act. These things are not done, to do so would be considered treacherous.

Besides there is no obvious process by which we could register our concern, short of going to the headteacher, which might be interpreted as telling tales. Perhaps we are concerned that somebody might do the same to us . .

So, when OFSTED arrives, we paint the best possible picture. We certainly don't make a conscious effort to give the slightest indication that something is wrong.

How then will the inspectors find out? Lesson observations don't necessarily reveal incompetence, for even the worst teachers can raise their performance on special occasions - to satisfactory, at the very least, which in OFSTED terms is acceptable. Observations are random and no member of staff is observed regularly enough during one week to ascertain whether they are failing generally. Looking at children's work gives a very small picture of what is going on.

Even if it were possible, I would suggest that the inspectors come to schools with their own truths, their own interpretations of what makes a good or bad teacher. And the idea of what constitutes a bad teacher is changing. The ideal is now a more formal, traditional type of teaching, while the liberal theories of the past (ironically, many OFSTED inspectors are former exponents of this) are out of favour .

Are inspectors in a position to judge who or what a failing teacher is? Even if they are capable of this judgment my experience is that the structure of the OFSTED inspection is such that it is not possible to identify a failing teacher - the machinery simply isn't there.

The issue is further clouded because there is a crucial mismatch in what the government is asking teachers to deliver, in terms of good standards in the basics versus a range of skills and experiences required by the national curriculum. Many of us are trying to achieve both but inevitably end up falling somewhere in between the two: does this then make us all bad teachers?

The author is a male teacher in the West Midlands

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