Where they were coming from

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
Nicolas Barnard on the origins of the report.

"NO PRE-CONCEIVED views" is how HayMcBer describes its approach to finding out what makes an effective teacher. But the company says it did have rough ideas it wanted to test out.

The research rests upon detailed interviews with 172 teachers, and on observing around 120 of them in action in the classroom - a "relatively small" sample, the report admits.

It was backed up with 17 focus groups of teachers, governors, heads, parents and non-teaching staff; detailed data relating to the schools and teachers interviewed and 5,000 questionnaires sent to teachers, pupils and others.

The consultants also reviewed 200 international studies and interviewed 21 educational experts to design the research and identify the characteristics they wished to measure.

"We set out with a hypothesis of factors that could lead to effective teaching," the report says. "Our approach was empirical and based on established research methods. It looked at what effective and outstanding teachers actually do."

Hundreds of studies have been carried out into what makes an effective teacher, but there is surprisingly little consensus, the HayMcBer report says.

"Instead there is a plethora of descriptions," it says, "...including nine 'dimensions', 11 'criteria', 15 'skills', 12 'qualities', nine 'behaviours' and so on."

But since research switched away from the vogue for defining personality types in the 1960s and 70s, or identifying "progressive" and "traditional" teaching methods to focusing on actual behaviour in the classroom, a pattern of attributes has emerged, it says. Factors broadly agreed upon include good use of time, resources and homework and effective classroom management, high expectations, a variety of teaching techniques and actively involving pupils.

One study highlighted in the report is School Matters, by Professor Peter Mortimore and colleagues at the Institute of Education, which Hay praises for its "immensely rich database" of junior schools and their pupils.

It said that the most important factors could be summarised a "structured sessions, intellectually-challenging teaching, a work-oriented environment, communication between teacher and pupils and a limited focus within the sessions".

But the report said few studies had addressed the social climate in classrooms or the deeper-seated characteristics of effective teachers, areas it set out to research itself.

The teachers - 71 primary, 85 seondary and 14 from special schools - were drawn from a sample of 87 schools, and represented schools' different sizes and geographical, social and ethical positions, ranging from ones which were failing to beacon schools.

They were recommended by their heads as ranging from effective to outstanding - "this is not meant to be a study of poor teaching" as one Department for Education and Employment official put it. Some were relatively new to teaching, others were senior managers.

Researchers found from the first 60-odd interviews that teachers found it hard to describe exactly what they did in the classroom. "Effective teachers seemed to be doing these things almost automatically," Frank Hartle, head of the Hay team, said. Instead, they outlined their broad approach - what Hay defined as "professional characteristics".

The team therefore decided to observe the remaining 120 teachers at work, following the Office for Standards in Education template for lesson observation.

They logged time spent on each activity, evidence for each of the seven OFSTED categories from high expectations to homework, and evaluated pupil progress in the lesson. Effective teachers scored well in all these categories, while outstanding teachers scored very highly.

Face-to-face interviews lasted up to three hours. Teachers were asked about three or four recent events - what they did and how they felt about it. The interviews were analysed or different skills or competencies displayed, and the level at which they were performing.

Finally, the classroom climate was tested in 253 primary and 189 secondary classes. As with the interviews and classroom observations, findings were checked against pupil progress.

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