Pupils sometimes appear to know better than the experts what makes a good teacher, a Scottish Association for Educational Management and Administration seminar heard last week.
Ian Smith, development fellow at the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, said research had shown pupils valued teachers who were interested in them as individuals, had faith in them, were patient and willing to listen, explained things clearly, were strict and fair, challenged them to do better, were approachable and had a sense of humour.
One teacher had told him it was impossible to determine what made a good teacher since that would involve looking at a 20-year career. But Mr Smith replied: "It is not acceptable, politically acceptable, to go around saying things like that. I also think it is not acceptable professionally." Defining standards would help staff to be more explicit about learning and teaching and set better targets. It would enable teachers to improve what they were doing and gain recognition and credit for what they had achieved.
But Mr Smith acknowledged that defining standards could lead to an obsession with measuring performance. Standards tended to suggest that what was measurable was important and inevitably looked to past rather than future performance.
There were two cultures in education. One viewed the whole person and sought to produce critical and reflective citizens. The other emphasised measurement, standards and achievement and sought to turn out well qualified young people who had basic skills, knew right from wrong, were responsible citizens and were employable. Educationists had to decide what kind of people they wanted pupils to become.
John Hart, assistant director of the Scottish Vocational Education Council, said that standards need not imply excessive narrowness. They could help students and teachers by defining areas of knowledge and understanding as well as laying down criteria for entry to and development within a profession.
John Halliday, senior lecturer at the Scottish School of Further Education, rejected the suggestion that good teaching could be ensured by attempting to standardise practices. A mountain of paper and administrative controls could submerge good teaching.
The move to standardise was entirely plausible but misguided, Mr Halliday said. It was based on the idea that professional competence be opened to democratic scrutiny and the notion that the education system aids consumerism.