Friday, May 14, 2010
Allan Peachey: How School Inspectors Lifted Teaching Standards
I maintain an irregular email correspondence with an elderly gentleman who many years ago rose from being the Head of Science at as successful secondary school to being a secondary school inspector back in the days when teachers were graded by two inspectors in consultation with their principal. Indeed he must be one of the few such inspectors still alive.
In a recent email he explained to me how the grading system worked. Teachers were given a grade made up of three components; the qualifications that they held, their years of service and marks allotted by the inspectors after each visit. A teacher’s grading mark was related to the salary that they received and to their eligibility to apply for senior positions. So, for example, Grade Three teachers were those who were just starting out on their careers and a few teachers who were meeting a need but who had no ambition. The bulk of teachers were in Grade Four. They were considered to be doing a competent job and were eligible to apply for low level promotion. Their salaries reflected their competence. Teachers of real ability and who understood what schooling was all about were placed in Grade Five. They got the highest salaries and were eligible to apply for senior positions up to inspector and principal level. I have to ask the question. Was this a form of performance pay? I would say it was. Teachers being paid according to their ability and how well they did the job is performance pay in my book. And we have to go back nearly 40 years to those days.
As a teacher I never worked under the grading system. I began teaching in 1974 just after the grading system was abolished. I entered a system in which a teacher’s salary was determined solely by the length of time they had been in the job regardless of how well they were performing. I remember arguing with school authorities at this time that the new system was a major disadvantage and therefore disincentive for people like myself who had five-year honours degrees with the subject expertise that came with such qualifications.
But it was even worse than that. Eligibility for promotion and the right to be paid for it was also made dependent on time in the job. I got my first promotion in the minimum time available but was not paid for it for the first year or so. These days people are just as likely to get promoted on the basis of their gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation as on their proven ability to do the job. And we wonder why our education standards have fallen over the years.
The old secondary school inspectors used to be subject specialists in various parts of the curriculum. They were closely involved in the construction of the curriculum and in the setting of examination prescriptions for each of the subjects taught at secondary school. They arranged curriculum-based training for teachers and took responsibility for teachers who were struggling in a particular subject area or in their performance generally. This meant that the direction of schooling was strongly influenced by inspectors who were, with rare exceptions, highly qualified and very experienced. My friend tells me that the inspectorate, as it worked in those years, maintained teacher quality at a high level. The system also ensured that the most critical position in schools were held by the best people.
One of the most unfortunate consequences of the demise of the inspectorate is that curriculum development and the training of teachers fell out of the hands of those with track records of proven success in teaching. After all, to become a school inspector had required a Grade Five ranking just to be considered for appointment. Curriculum development has increasingly fallen into the hands of bureaucrats and into those with an ideological bent. The result has been a weakening of subject rigour in what students learn.
To complete the story, the Inspectorate was abolished in 1989 as part of the “Tomorrow’s Schools” reforms. It was one part of the old system that was worth keeping. Our schooling system would today be much stronger had that been the case. Who knows? We might even have returned to grading and thereby re-introduced an element of performance pay.
And what replaced the Inspectorate? A very different beast called the Education Review Office, a body that could not be more different from the Inspectorate even if it tried. But that is another story!
at 3:46 PM