Why wet Fridays are the best test

30th April 2004 at 01:00
The Intelligent School

By Barbara MacGilchrist, Kate Myers and Jane Reed

Sage Publications pound;18.99

Assessing Teacher Effectiveness: developing a differentiated model

By Jim Campbell, Leonidas Kyriakides, Daniel Muijs and Wendy Robinson

RoutledgeFalmer pound;22.50

The Intelligent School first appeared in 1997: a refreshingly down-to-earth encouragement to schools and teachers to use the best of educational research as a source of inspiration and support. One of its strengths was the recognition, after years of top-down diktat, that support was needed; another was the way it linked theory with the realities of classroom practice. What mattered was improving teaching and learning. If the theory didn't help to do that - to pass the "wet Friday afternoon test" - it would, the authors said, have failed its purpose.

This new edition will be widely welcomed. Essentially, it retains the earlier format: a review of research on school effectiveness and school improvement, particularly as the two have begun to work together, and of what we have learned in recent years about the way people learn; an overview of the changing definitions of effective teaching and of the sort of professional development that can best create it; a description of the sort of school that is receptive to change and committed to its own improvement - the school that of its own resources can pull all this together, the intelligent school.

There is also extensive new material. The book now opens with a critical overview of New Labour's standards-driven schools agenda: a one-size-fits-all model, they say, based on a reading of school effectiveness research that is at best partial and at worst mistaken.

Conveniently for politicians, it locates all responsibility for pupils'

learning within the schools themselves, and largely ignores the social contexts within which they have to function. Worse, it dictates solutions.

The essence of the intelligent school, they say, the one that's really capable of improvement, is that it thinks hard about its own solutions.

Again, the framework for this is based on the concept of multiple intelligences, all of which schools need to nurture and use if they are to transform their pupils' learning. In some ways, the list is artificial, but it's the core of the book. Essentially, it's about values: ethical, spiritual, contextual, emotional, collegial, reflective, as well as operational, pedagogical, corporate and - central to them all - systemic.

Schools that apply these "intelligences", deliberately and systematically, to their practices and their decisions will, the authors say, create communities where learning flourishes and deepens.

This is an optimistic vision, not to say an idealistic one. Schools that apply ethical intelligence, for example, will, we are told, concern themselves about every pupil in the system. Not for them the subtleties of selection, the poaching of teachers in shortage subjects or the manipulation of market share. This is a long way from New Labour. It's not a long way, though, from what the research is telling us - and plenty of schools want to listen.

The book is also easy to use: clear, well organised, full of practical examples and equally practical questions. It could be a signpost to the future - if the days of educational diktat are really almost over.

Assessing Teacher Effectiveness also has reservations about government education policy, particularly about the assumption that we know exactly what "effectiveness" is and that by training, appraisal and performance management we can clone it or create it. The authors argue that current models are much too narrowly defined: they pay too little regard to the contexts within which teachers are working (some of them hugely more challenging than others) and to the various sorts of learning (and the various time-scales) we expect teachers to develop. The outcomes that are measured are too limited too: little or no attention is paid to the moral framework of teaching and to the development of values. It's an impoverished concept of teaching, they say.

So, is there a better one, equally capable of appraisal and evaluation? Their answer is yes: that the research literature supports an alternative model of effectiveness throughout a range of contexts, over various time-scales, with various categories of pupils, and across many aspects of a subject. They argue that such a system - a differentiated system - would not only be capable of appraisal (largely through self-evaluation) but would also correspond much more closely to the sort of teaching for long-term learning that our society needs, and they construct a theoretical model to support their claim.

The key word here is "theoretical". This is a book for researchers, not practising teachers, but it is significant nonetheless: a substantial brick, perhaps, in the growing edifice of doubt about the effects and, indeed, the effectiveness of the standards-led, accountability-driven approach to teaching and teachers that has so long prevailed.

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