Students' scrutiny is about feedback, not blame

30th January 2009 at 00:00

The principal of Beauchamp College is quoted as saying that the majority of people who are worried about pupil observation of classes are "insecure about their own abilities".

What evidence has he for this assertion? Even if true, is it a bad thing?

The teaching profession is made up of many kinds of people. Some come with an awesome super-confidence that is difficult to sustain in the face of classroom realities. Some begin with very tentative steps but often reach a high standard of practice after being allowed to make mistakes. Many achieve excellence precisely because they constantly challenge their own insecurities.

Good teachers have always been aware of their pupils' perceptive scrutiny and have adjusted their teaching styles to the shifting needs of their charges. But, as in all complex relationships, there are profoundly subtler ways of responding to legitimate pupil concerns than by means of a prematurely empowered panel of judges. Should not education be a dynamic conversation where pupils and teachers exchange opinions but in a context that respects a hierarchy of experience?

Younger teachers, used to being mentored, are often said to be quite comfortable with constant observation. But, if we want high-quality and inspirational teachers, they need the freedom to stretch the boundaries, to try new techniques of teaching and classroom management, for the benefit of those pupils whom we are told are often bored by the formulaic lessons imposed by fear of Ofsted. This freedom is unlikely to come in the model at Beauchamp.

If teaching is ever to be a truly professional pursuit, should not those who lead in schools encourage more independent thinking among their staff? The developing minds of our young cannot be left in the hands of clones with an Ofsted stamp on their foreheads.

Simon McCarthy, Clapton, north-east London.

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