Time to see the light

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Those teachers already doing a good job deserve to be recognised and rewarded just as much as the honoured headswho rescue schools from failure, argues Steve Devrell

What a wonderful and long overdue tribute to the teaching profession was bestowed upon a select few in the New Year's honours list. I was 91.7 per cent delighted. My other 8.3 per cent is more sceptical.

It seems to me that the main awards went to people who, through no fault of their own, found themselves in a "no lose situation". By that I mean the Hit Squad, the Trouble-Shooter, those drafted to euphemistically "turn a school around".

What really do these people have to lose? If they fail, the school was failing anyway and if they succeed, it is Congratulations Sir Peter Deviant-Freeor Dame Judith Curriculum-Rejuvenated.

Do not think I am trying to denigrate their achievements. Anyone who makes success out of failure is worthy of praise. The dilemma comes when it is clear what is wrong with a school - and even more obvious how to put it right.

After these elementary items have been identified, then it is largely down to the teaching staff to put the school right. All they have probably suffered from before was a lack of good leadership and direction.

Will this Government always reward schools that pull themselves up from a cliff-dangling position, or will it one dayrecognise that excellent work is already being done in the vast majority of schools who receive sound, or better judgments from OFSTED? Why do we have to work in darkness before we experience a great light? In so many schools that light has been burning for years.

One of my biggest fears about education is the obsession with the benchmarks that are laid down to register the success and failure of schools. These mislead the public - and, apparently, the Government as well - into believing that improved percentages equal improved education.

This is not true; it just reflects a greater emphasis on an important but small area of the curriculum. We must not lose sight of the broader aspects of education that are much more difficult to quantify, such as self-esteem and respect for others.

And crucial areas of the curriculum are not tested, which means judgments are made about schools and the people working and studying in them by looking at only a tiny part of their work.

The Government must resist using "snapshot education". Much more goes on in schools than can be demonstrated by a week of testing or a visit from OFSTED. Yet the awards to teachers (beg your pardon, headteachers) have gone to those who have made a direct impact on both.

When we visit the cinema, we do not just watch one frame and make a judgment from that about the quality of the whole film. In the same way, it is improper to make judgments about a school and its management solely from published statistics or recommendations.

Honoured we all must be to think that teaching has at last been seen as a major priority in our society. But let us dig deep and discover brilliance in the craft of teaching, not just the wisdom of the administrator.

Steve Devrell is a primary teacher in Solihull

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