I asked about Harry’s experience of tracking ‘teacher effects’. “How much of a relationship can you establish between a given teacher and the results their students get each year? Do the teachers you would view as the ‘best’ you have get the best results?”
This lead to the following from Harry:
“Common sense and the expectations of the public who fund government education would both see improved test scores e.g. in maths as indicative of good or improved maths teaching. I see no reason to disagree with this.”
This was my response:
“That answers my question – thanks for that. I’d suggest that, there may be a few other much more significant factors affecting results of tests, but many people would agree with you in saying, “Common sense and the expectations of the public who fund government education would both see improved test scores e.g. in maths as indicative of good or improved maths teaching. I see no reason to disagree with this.”
I would argue that common sense and public expectations aren’t subject to rigorous analysis and don’t tell you much other than what people would like to be true. There appears to be very little evidence that teachers make a significant difference to children’s outcomes – even the Gates foundation raised doubts about being able to provide any evidence for this hypothesis and hedged their bets considerably.
Judging a teacher on the results of their classes seems akin to judging a GP by the health of their patients.”
At which point, Harry asked, “OK. So how would you determine who the best teachers are?”
This was my response:
“Well, to start with, I would hope that a senior management team would have a fairly good idea of the strengths and weaknesses in their team from their general work together. Secondly, it rather depends what ‘best’ means: Different schools will have different ideas about their teaching teams for a wide variety of reasons including length of tenure, specialisms, interests and overall needs of the school. One teacher might be best at supporting colleagues, another might be better working with either struggling or high-achieving children, and a third might be prepared to put in 100 hour weeks to run after school clubs and produce brilliant displays. Which is best?
By working on the principle that some teachers are ‘better’ than others in an absolute sense, teachers are pitted against each other from the off. When did you last have a teacher who was brilliant at classroom presentation putting up displays in other teachers’ classrooms, or those great at using ICT to reduce workload helping others who struggle on that front? It simply doesn’t happen because of the false premise at the heart of ‘best teacher.’
Now that Ofsted have confirmed that they don’t grade lessons, and that they look at a snapshot of teaching style, “evidence about how teaching has improved, the quality of work seen in books, teachers’ marking, discussions with pupils and staff and, of course, test results and so on,” I’d look at my teaching staff in that light. Talk, discuss, read, develop together.
Lesson observations should be a supportive process, to refer back to your blog post, and we would all be much better off if we ditched the high-stakes ‘performing monkey’ lessons, and turned the counter-productive 'performance management' system of appraisal into one which recognised that teachers are professionals who want to be part of the development of both themselves and the school in which they work. Pitting us against each other is a fundamentally bad idea, snapshot observations are subjective and basing decisions about management purely on data is not sensible. Everyone in a school has strengths and good management develops and utilises them effectively, surely?”