What to do if your ratings slip

19th January 1996 at 00:00
Inspection reports will soon focus public attention more on the quality of teaching. Charles Stiles reports. Reports on all schools inspected after next Easter will include a figure showing the proportion of lessons considered unsatisfactory or worse. Whether this figure is large or small, its publication will focus attention on the quality of teaching - no governing body should think itself immune from having to deal with the questions which will arise.

Inspectors already collect these figures as part of their classroom observations. The annual report of the Chief Inspector for 1993-94 showed that 25 per cent of infant classes and 30 per cent of junior classes were found to be unsatisfactory or poor. Almost one in five secondary lessons were rated unsatisfactory. That is, they:

* were ill-prepared

* did not challenge pupils

* were inaccessible to weaker pupils

* revealed weak subject knowledge of the teacher

* lacked variety of activity.

From Easter, lessons will be graded on a new seven-point scale. Five is unsatisfactory and six and seven are worse. The proportion of lessons graded five, six or seven will be published.

The Office for Standards in Education has also proposed that inspectors should in future report directly to the headteacher on any teacher rated as grade one or seven.

Governors should not muddle this proposal about individuals with the decision already made to publish the proportion of lessons rated unsatisfactory or worse.

Whether that proportion is large or small, discussion about what is being done about it will be inescapable.

Governors should be positive about the figures, emphasising the proportion of lessons considered satisfactory or better.

They also need to be clear that the proportion of any unsatisfactory lessons does not equate to a proportion of unsatisfactory teachers.

Teachers working at key stage 2 are acknowledged to face the greatest demands from the national curriculum for subject knowledge; others will have underperformed in the stress of inspection - and even good teachers can have bad days. In some schools it will be possible to make favourable comparisons with whatever national figures have most recently been published.

Governors should look at the report with the headteacher to pick out particular subjects or key stages in which unsatisfactory lessons have been found. It is then a matter of discussing what measures can be taken. Just what those are will depend upon why the lessons were rated unsatisfactory. They will probably involve staff development and training which will need to be planned, budgeted for and monitored.

Teachers, headteachers and their associations may see all of this as threatening, especially if undertaken in the aftermath of an wearying and morale-sapping in-spection.

Nothing can change what has already happened. But given the certainty that there probably will be a figure showing at least some unsatisfactory lessons, governors can plan a strategy for handling it. They may even manage to take action in advance by encouraging teachers and heads to reflect on the factors OFSTED considers important in lesson quality.

Good teaching, according to OFSTED, is hallmarked by:

* clear purpose

* sound planning

* a match of tasks with pupils' abilities

* explicit directions for pupils

* challenges to pupils' thinking

* appropriate use of resources.

The role of the governors includes strategic direction, monitoring and accountability. A forward-looking and corporate approach to unsatisfactory lessons will help them to carry out those roles. It will also avoid much heartache later during the inescapable and potentially difficult local discussion of the proportion of unsatisfactory lessons.

Charles Stiles is a governor trainer

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