Why must we keep on passing the same test?

11th February 2005 at 00:00
For an NQT three weeks into a first job, there are few phrases less pleasing to the ear than "Ofsted is coming". The bogeyman of the teaching world, the nightmare of PGCE students everywhere, arriving little more than half a term into full-time teaching. I knew Ofsted was looming - I read the last report and the date on it in preparation for my interview - but it was something I never really believed in before.

Now I find I am strangely unprepared for this visitation. Establishing yourself in a new school takes time when you are an experienced teacher, let alone when you are young and new to the profession. But I was quietly making myself at home, asserting myself in corridors, exerting control over the rowdy Year 8s, and settling into life on the other side of the staffroom door.

And now there are people on their way to judge not only my teaching, but that of my colleagues, and to scrutinise the whole school in the most uncomfortable way. I know I can teach. I know my colleagues can teach. Yet the past few weeks have had an air of generalised panic.

I am told by senior colleagues that, as an NQT, I am well prepared for Ofsted, because I am used to being observed. This is true. There is another reason why I have found the preparation less strenuous than it could have been: I am used to preparing what were coyly termed "gold-plated lesson plans" on my PGCE course. I am used to designating lesson objectives according to the key stage 3 Framework for Teaching English reference numbers. I even know where to find the citizenship national curriculum programmes of study on the web, to add into my lesson plans.

This is not to say I am any better than my colleagues at teaching the framework, or citizenship, or at planning lessons; just that I am practised in proving that I am doing those things.

But should it be up to teachers to prove that they are doing what they are doing? Anyone who passes an NVQ, where the level of documentary support is comparable to that required in a lesson plan, has to pass it only once.

Doctors need to pass their anatomy exams only once. Accountants pass their ACCA tests just once. Anyone who wishes to drive a car need pass their driving test just once. True, these people then use the skills they have demonstrated every day. But don't teachers do the same?

We have proved we know how to write lesson plans that show our understanding of the theory of education. We have proved we understand the pedagogical basis of teaching x in Year 7, y in Year 8 and so on. So why do teachers have to prove themselves again every six years? Is it because teaching no longer commands the same respect as, say, medicine? Or is it because we are no longer respected as professional experts who know how to teach in our own right?

Victoria Elliott teaches English at Harrogate grammar school

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