To whom should teachers be accountable? Ofsted grading of individual lessons created the insane idea that a teacher was somehow directly accountable to Her Majesty’s Government for every scribble in his lesson planner. But to be meaningful, accountability must be much more personal and local. A teacher must be accountable to the headteacher first and foremost. Inspectors should be dealing only with senior management, and they should be ensuring that senior management have proper accountability systems in place for those who are working at the chalkface. Inspections should be a simple matter of looking at results and meeting senior management.
For what should a teacher be accountable to headteachers? Certainly not for individual results. Nothing is more corrosive than statements like ‘you’ve got to get Fred a B grade’. They lead to an unfair focus on particular pupils at the expense of others, and are based on an inaccurate belief about the level of control that the teacher could possibly have over Fred’s grade. Fred is a human being with free will. However hard the teacher works, Fred can still refuse to cooperate.
Teachers must not, therefore, be held accountable for individual grades. If they are going to be held accountable for results, the analysis of their performance must be done on a much larger sample size than one. Average grades or average progress from year to year for whole classes could be measured. But if management are going to attempt such a thing, they will have to bear in mind the highly doubtful nature of even such relatively broad samples of educational data. Human beings simply cannot be measured as we measure chemicals in a test tube. Countless factors outside the teacher’s control are always going to affect their progress.
Headteachers also need to bear in mind the deeply flawed nature of the current testing regime, which excessively rewards a narrow, exam focused method over good general knowledge of subjects. They may wish to introduce their own systems of annual, objective testing in order to counterbalance the problems with current exams and encourage thorough teaching of core knowledge. Of course, their decision about that will depend on how much they value education for its own sake.
The focus on thresholds also makes analysis problematic. Should teachers be penalised for missing grade boundaries by a few percentage points? It would be much better to look at raw data than the very rough and ready measure of final grades.
Overall, then, if headteachers are going to attempt any kind of assessment of their staff based on results, they will have to be very careful how they go about it in order to avoid injustice or distortion.
And then there are all the human factors which often go overlooked, but are vital to being a good teacher. Bodil Isaksen has blogged brilliantly about these recently. Headteachers may need to spend more time outside their offices if they are going to have a good sense of whether their staff are actually reliable, organised, hardworking and knowledgeable. These qualities are at least as important as results for measuring the calibre of a school’s staff.