Pulling off an inside job

12th April 1996 at 01:00
NEXT STEPS: MAKING THE MOST OF APPRAISAL. Hilary Francis, Framework Press Educational Publishers, Parkfield, Greaves Road, Lancaster LA1 4TZ, Pounds 60 inc pp. SOMERSET SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS. Somerset Education Development Service, The Holway Centre, Keats Road, Taunton TA1 2JB, Pounds 250 inc pp. THE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PORTFOLIO FOR NEWLY QUALIFIED TEACHERS. Somerset Education Development Service, Pounds 75 for Competences, Pounds 15 for Portfolio, inc pp.

QUALITY DEVELOPMENT RESOURCE PACK. Birmingham City Council Education Department, Council House, Margaret Street, Birmingham B3 3BU, Pounds 25 plus Pounds 5 pp. MANAGING QUALITY IN SCHOOLS: A TRAINING MANUAL. By Christopher Bowring-Carr and John West-Burnham, Longman, Westgate House, Harlow, Essex CM20 1YR, Pounds 37.50. TRAINING FOR APPRAISAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Jeff Jones and John Matthias, Cassell, Wellington House, 125 Strand, London WC2R 0BB, Pounds 20.

Internal self-review is the key to school improvement - a crusade which has become a political as well as educational imperative. Michael Duffy finds some resource packs which will help boost performance. There is nothing new about a concern for school improvement. Local education authorities and schools have long embraced it, and for a generation or more there have been initiatives and programmes directed at it. In the past five years, however, concern has become crusade.

Local management, appraisal, league tables, school development plans and OFSTED inspections have separately focused on school performance, and grants for education support and training (GEST) have provided some of the wherewithal to address it. School effectiveness has become a political as well as an educational imperative, with quality management a condition for survival.

On the evidence of these packs, there is little argument about what it rests on. Externally imposed quality control on the OFSTED model is either ignored or heavily discounted.

The key to quality is seen as internal self-review - a process of continuous monitoring and evaluation, focused always on the classroom, but firmly linked with professional and school development, and bench-marked against internal as well as external standards.

The real debate is how best to do it. At the purely practical level, good administration is essential. There is no longer room for the well-meaning or bureaucratic muddle that distracted attention and resources from the school's core purpose; instead, accurate and accessible data, not least about performance, is vital. Good local education authorities help schools to handle this.

Appraisal is another crucial factor not yet delivering its full potential, according to these compilations. The Department for Education's own evaluation of the national appraisal scheme confirmed that most teachers feel it has improved their confidence and skills. Few schools, however, had integrated it into a target-setting school development strategy.

Cassell's Training for Appraisal and Professional Development and Framework's Next Steps both offer a convincing rationale for this and useful pointers on how to do it. In the former, the argument rests on classroom observation - with appropriate training, the most accessible and effective instrument of school improvement we have.

In the latter, the key is action research - a way of focusing observation and data collection inside the school, so that teachers themselves identify and reproduce the conditions under which the best learning happens. Both approaches lend themselves well to school-planned in-service training, and both publications contain excellent copiable material.

All the packs agree that the bedrock of quality in schools is effective management and a commitment to professional development that is based on teachers evaluating their own practice and setting and attaining their own improvement targets. Where there is argument, it is about how best to make this happen, what the role of leadership is, and how important it is for self-managing, improving schools to share their ideas and progress in a wider network.

Vision, certainly, is a precondition. Many schools have found that the philosophy of Total Quality Management provides both a pointer and a framework for a shared commitment to improve, and Managing Quality in Schools is a down-to-earth training manual that builds on the earlier respected work of authors Christopher Bowring-Carr and John West-Burnham.

For schools less sure about the gospel certainties of TQM, more support is probably needed - which is what the LEA packs set out to offer. But support can easily become constraint and begin to stifle the individual teacherschool initiatives that it sets out to foster. The interesting Somerset scheme, Successful Schools (expensive - but no more than a good day's training package), is ingenious in this respect.

It lists in some detail the objectives of 19 policies that schools need to have in place if they are to be consistent about quality assurance; seven that are curriculum-specific and 12 which "support curriculum delivery".

Then, in rather greater detail, it lists the "success indicators" that the school could use to determine how well it is meeting each objective, and the sorts of evidence available for this purpose.

It stresses that these are merely guidelines and that each school should discuss for itself - and sensibly provides the materials on disc as well, to facilitate easy addition or amendment. Fine, though one suspects that there is still a danger, particularly in hard-pressed or not yet OFSTED-ed schools, of putting them in place without the argument and discomfort that is such an essential part of the quality learning process.

Some of the other materials from this source, like the Somerset Scheme of Competences for continuous professional development and the rather prescriptive Portfolio for Newly Qualified Teachers, raise the same concerns. The proposals are valid and important - but schools (and teachers) need room to think their own way to them.

That is the starting point of the Birmingham Quality Development pack. The argument here is that quality is a process, not a product: it's dynamic, grows out of current practice, and is continuously expanding.

The LEA's role is to articulate best practice and to establish and maintain the necessary network of collaboration and (via the university) individual accreditation.

The assumption is that self-evaluation, like self-study, is most successful when it's supported. In Birmingham, this comes with a political commitment to resource it - a refreshing (and unusual) recognition that in education as elsewhere, you can't get quality on the cheap.

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