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!


Peter Roberts said...

Super common sense - a pity there are not more clear, objective thinkers and speakers in education today.

david willmott said...

Those who benefitted from a truly world-class education system through well into the sixties have much to be thankful for. But our system today correlates with recent media reports of unemployable graduates from teachers training colleges.

In retrospect, "the rot" may well have started with the introduction of "social promotion" in 1948 (?). Before then, at year end, each child had to pass certain standards of reading writing and arithmetic, as determined by examinations and the inspectors, to earn "promotion" to a higher class for the following year. Teachers applied considerable effort to ensure (almost) no child was to be "left behind" for a repeat year, not least because it could influence their grading. Small wonder our state of prosperity was amongst the world's best.

My primary school would have been a decile three or four in current terms, but I cannot recall anybody "failing" to be promoted, even 'though we were all aware of that possibility. One standout memory is the creation of my own "times tables" (up to 12 x 12) matrix on a pocket-sized square of cardboard, and being able, like all the other kids, to recite all my "times tables" and answer random queries thereon. The slacking off of such standards with the introduction of "social promotion", while doubtless benefitting the few potential "failures", has wrought untold damage to standards of teaching, and of the education achieved by the vast majority.

Then it all pretty much turned to custard as (i) "equal opportunity for all" (ie a competitive reach for personal achievement, even excellence) was displaced by "equal outcomes" (ie collectivist anti-competitive lowest common denominator)
(ii) teaching "in loco parentis" was displaced by "child-centred education" with parental engagement becoming unilateral, and student "outcomes" parentally-comprehensible. Other facets of this change : reports, previously objective, become merely incidental, subjective, and incomprehensible; the (failed) "new maths" experiment cut parents off from helping their kids with homework; politically and environmentally "correct" attitudes and morality, including sex education, were taught regardless of the "natural" parental prerogative,
(iii) rules and discipline (ie responsibility to restrict detrimental effects of one's own actions on others) were displaced by "children's rights" (without associated responsibilities),
(iv) teacher formality and competitive self respect were displaced by easy-going (dressed-down) informality and collectivist collegiality. This included the teacher-child relationship as if the children were already adults and shared their status,

Of course, this is a simplistic caricature. Many excellent and very good teachers remain in the system making enormous contributions in the face of mind-numbing micro-management by the Ministry and the professional correctness it instills in too many. Many schools achieve beyond the odds given the standards of their intakes. But such teachers as benefitted from "the good old days" and have held out against the system are a rapidly diminishing resource.

Can NZ avoid the dross stasis and stagnation of a worked-right-out gold mine?? Recent press comments would have us believe Training Colleges are turning out unemployables, possibly reflecting "positive discrimination" policies. Certainly, college selectors have rejected applications from some outstanding students on the grounds that they must be "elitist" like their schools. That seems rather like negative discrimination to me. Perhaps this topsy turvey system will re-reverse itself over the next 60 years? Our future depends on just that.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher who came back into the system after many years away I concur with all that Allan has written and the other comments. I am frequently angry....not with the children but with the standard of some teachers.As a reliever I have seen many schools and now will only go to a few as the frustration with what I see is unbearable! Perhaps the ERO should have a reliever on their team as we see far more than ERO ever does! I will remain anonymous if you don't mind!

Trad. said...

Somewhat different circumstances but similar tale. After 22 years in the Building and Construction industry and the holder of recognition as a qualified quantity surveyor entitled to add the letters ANZIQS to my name I applied for appointment in early 1969 to a tutorial vacancy in a large polytechnic (tertiary education sector).

I was pleased with the inservice induction and the support of Department of Education inspectorate as I immersed myself in a largely unfamiliar role, even thogh I had been involved prior to 1969 in settling Cadet or trainee quantity survyors through new role in the organisation that employed me at the time.

There was considerable disappointment when the position of Director of Technical training within the D of Ed. was disestablished and the visit of suitably qualified inspectors ceased. I reached my sixtieth birthday in 1988 and officially "retired" but subseequently I watched with dismay as the polytechnics were restructured, and very experienced tutors particularly in trades education were given their "marching orders". Do we wonder why we have immense problems wit Leaky Homes Syndrome?