Judging teaching methods and judging teachers.

It seems to me that there is a lot of judgemental tosh floating around. Much of it misses the point.

The simple point is that most teachers use whatever method they believe will best get the pupils in front of them through their exams.

We are judged on exam results. The pressure on teachers almost all relates to exam results. If teachers are using teaching methods that people disapprove of then ultimately there are a limited number of possible explanations:

1) The teachers thinking is flawed and these methods will not lead to pupils getting good exam results.

2) The exam is flawed and these methods will lead to reasonably good exam results

3) The thinking leading to disapproving of the teaching methods is flawed.

Now it seems to me that a teacher using methods that do not lead to good exam results will get found out pretty quickly in the current accountability climate. Therefore poor teaching methods that do not result in decent exam results will disappear over time. Therefore option 1 is unlikely in the long term.

When I disapprove of something option 3 is ludicrously implausible. This leads me to conclude that option 2 is the only rational explanation for the continued existence of teaching methods I disapprove of.

Take the example of the Mr Men resources being used in history. Presumably using this pack of resources results in pupils understanding WW2 well enough to get decent results in their exam. If it didn’t then using the resources would be insanity. That being the case does the fault lie with the teachers for using the resources or with the exam?

If the government are serious about raising standards then they should do the following:

1) Set up a public body with the responsibility for writing the exams. Write exams that do what they are supposed to do.

2) Scrap the false equivalence between different qualifications. Vocational qualifications have different currency to GCSE and A-Level and it is fundamentally dishonest to pretend otherwise.

3) Observe all OFSTED inspectors teach. Sack the ones that can’t do it well enough.

4) Stop penalising schools for excluding pupils. Provide decent provision for excluded pupils instead.

5) Acknowledge that some pupils have needs that mainstream schools cannot cater for. Provide decent provision for ALL of those pupils outside of the mainstream.

6) Decide whether they want the exams to rank pupils or judge their competency. Then produce exams that do the job. At the moment the GCSE exam in Maths is supposed to identify pupils that are numerate (C grade) and also identify the top mathematicians and those capable of continuing studies in maths related subjects. It currently does neither.

7) Judge schools on value added rather than C grades. This would at a stroke change the way all of the attention goes on the minority of students that are C/D borderline to the detriment of everyone else.

I don’t have all the answers but I do know that our current systems of accountability are fundamentally flawed. Any serious attempt to raise standards must address that. I’m not confident that the government intend any such thing.


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