Sceptics, semantics and skills

16th December 1994 at 00:00
Q) Why are we told that teachers will not be inspected? It seems to me, as a head whose school has been designated as requiring "special measures", that the performance of teachers was probably the decisive factor in the judgment.

A) Whatever I say in response to this is likely to sound like hair-splitting. The Office for Standards in Education insists that it is the quality of teaching that is inspected, not teachers as individuals. Teachers will not be inspected in the sense that they will not be named or identified in any report.

However, many people are convinced that it is not possible to consider teaching apart from those who do it. They regard attempts to discriminate between them as little more than a matter of semantics, not merely because identification of teachers is inescapable in some schools but because they feel the quality of teaching will always be bound up inextricably with the teachers who provide it. Teacher anonymity is clearly the issue at hand.

OFSTED puts the sole emphasis on the quality of teaching. It asserts unequivocally in the inspection handbook that "good teaching" helps pupils acquire knowledge, skills and understanding progressively, caters for the learning of pupils of differing abilities and interests, suits the topic or subject as well as the pupils and sets high but attainable challenges for children.

But this analysis also acknowledges the central role of the teacher. Inspectors are obliged to take account of how teachers plan, how they use time and resources,the knowledge, skill and imagination they bring to the task, their command of subjects, their awareness of children's development and the expectations they hold for them. The quality of teaching is treated by OFSTED as one of the factors or aspects that make a vital contribution to key areas of a school's life.

But it hardly needs OFSTED to persuade us that children's education and the nature of their learning are greatly dependent on the quality of teaching they encounter. No matter how sophisticated management structures and techniques may be, nor how enlightened and sagacious leadership is, it is what teachers do in classrooms that are the truly decisive elements in the quality of education pupils receive. It is for that reason that inspectors spend the main part of inspections in classrooms.

I regret OFSTED's decision to treat the quality of teaching not as one of the main areas of judgment in the evaluation of a school, but as a contributory factor. Had OFSTED done so, perhaps the present ambiguity might have been avoided.

At least, teachers can take professional comfort from the fact that the quality of what they do with children is regarded as what matters most.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Questions may be addressed to him co The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY.

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