Simply the best: at a price

12th May 2000 at 01:00
Ministers spend at least pound;4m creating the definitive guide to effective teaching skills. Nicolas Barnard reports.

THE DEFINITIVE model teacher will be unveiled this month by the Government - at a cost to the public believed to exceed pound;4 million.

Research by private management consultancy Hay McBer, commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment, will set out in detail the characteristics and skills demonstrated by the nation's effective teachers.

The year-long study involved in-depth interviews with 180 teachers, observation of 120 in action in the classroom, questionnaires sent to 5,000 teachers and pupils, and a review of earlier research.

The TES understands the firm has charged between pound;4m and pound;6m. Academics this week questioned the cost and validity of the work, and one teachers' leader branded it a huge waste of public money.

Others supported its aims, but feared it could be compromised by being so closely tied to the Government's performance-pay agenda. Hay's early findings helped set the threshold standards teachers must meet for a pound;2,000 rise.

Frank Hartle, who led the project for Hay, said: "For the first time, we have a definitive view of what makes an effective teacher at different levels of the profession."

It was a detailed, practical model which all teachers could use to plan their training and careers. "The whole profession is mapped out. That's a huge advance," he said.

The DFEE awarded Hay the contract without going out to tender, saying it built on their earlier work on school leadership training, which was tendered.

Professor Michael Bassey, acadmic secretary of the British Educational Research Association, said the use of private consultants raised many questions.

"Which referees looked at it to say it was conducted properly? How do we know the stuff is any good?" he said. "There is no reason to doubt their effectiveness, but at the moment they are faceless people."

Professor David Jesson of York University said: "If this is a serious attempt to identify competencies which is robust and will help teachers progress their careers, that's fantastic."

But he added: "Academic researchers would die for a quarter of that budget. There must be some engine driving it - this is not just 'blue skies' research."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "It's unbelievable - we could have told them what makes a good teacher for nothing."

But the National Association of Head Teachers, which has itself employed Hay, said the research was worth doing well. "Whatever the Government is paying should be viewed as a long-term investment," general secretary David Hart said.

The cost is believed to include a pound;2,500 daily rate charged for the project leader. Neither the DFEE nor Hay McBer would confirm the figures, citing "commercial confidentiality".

Professor Richard Pring of Oxford University's school of education, one of the country's top-rated education research institutions, said: "A quarter of that would enable us to come up a study of the same size, and it would be exceedingly well-informed." He feared the model would be based on too narrow a concept of education.

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