Shades of grey in teacher skills debate;Letter

27th August 1999 at 01:00
THE THOUGHTS of David Reynolds and Sheila Lawlor ("Can good teaching be measured?" TES, August 13) were instructive. But extreme views can only be valuable if they are recognised for what they are: the outer bounds of sanity rather than the only options available.

Each writer provided a mythical view which contained an element of truth. Reynolds is surely right that teaching is not simply a matter of personal qualities, but his reference to a body of scientific knowledge telling us what is good teaching and how it can be learned is a fantasy.

The research he refers to has long been subjected to sharp criticism by many researchers on both sides of the Atlantic. And his dismissal of the view that it is teachers who should judge what are appropriate methods, on the grounds that this simply reflects the interests of union leaders, is (apart from anything else) a

scandalous slur on the integrity of elected officials who are doing a

difficult job.

By contrast, Sheila Lawlor is surely right that good teaching cannot be reduced to a checklist; but she is wrong to conclude that the academic study of education (including sociological research) has nothing to contribute to the professional education of teachers. That doesn't follow at all.

Lawlor might not like what academic researchers come up with, but that's another matter; and this reflects her own ideological commitments as much as anything else.

So, it's not a question of either seeing educational research as specifying what teachers must do to be effective or dismissing it as an ideological irrelevance. There are more sensible and subtle perspectives between these two poles.

While we can learn from extreme views, the lessons are likely to be as much negative as positive. What is worrying is that these views seem to have had, and to continue to have, such influence on Government education policy.

Martyn Hammersley, Professor of educational and social research, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes

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