Focus on quality of teachers and teaching-McKinsey revisited


Providing good teaching trumps even good leadership as the most important thing a school can provide for its pupils. Evidence is clear that pupil progress depends more on the quality of teaching than on anything else, according to the Case for Change (Nov 2010) paper that was released along with the Education  White Paper last week. It reminds one of Professor Michael Barbers report for Mckinsey which is unequivocal in its conclusions – the best school systems do three things: recruit the best teachers, develop them well and target support at students who need it most.  In US research , an eight year-old consistently given a teacher in the top quintile of performance was found to perform 50 percentile points better three years later than a similarly performing eight year-old consistently given a teacher in the bottom quintile of performance. Internal Department for Education analysis suggests that this translates into a difference of between 6.7 and 7.9 National Curriculum points at key stage two – which is more than two years’ progress Analysis of data in England shows much the same (Slater, Davies and Burgess, 2009): good teachers make a substantial difference to overall attainment and progress, and this can be shown to be likely to have an impact on GCSE grades. Likewise, the DfES VITAE study. (Day et al, 2006) shows that in relation to pupil progress, the influence of the teacher was more important than pupils’ background characteristics. So, the evidence is clear that improving average teacher quality has considerable potential for improving educational standards. The key question is therefore what should be done to improve teacher quality.

The paper claims that three strategies are effective and reform should focus on these elements: recruiting more of the most effective people; improving their initial training and induction; and improving the systems for their professional development.

The latter element has been stressed by Professor Dylan Wiliam of the IOE  who believes that we should  stop focusing on how to get rid of poor teachers, because there is no guarantee that they will be replaced by better ones, and instead focus on better in -profession training and CPD for the teachers  we already  have.

In addition the paper says that reform should strengthen and simplify the curriculum and qualifications, to set high standards, create curriculum coherence and avoid prescription about how to teach. It should increase both autonomy and accountability of schools, and ensure that resources are distributed and used fairly and effectively to incentivise improvement and improve equity.

There are suggestions in the paper  on  how to improve teacher-quality which are clearly evidenced, but few clear recommendations follow about how the government will implement continual development of teachers. Performance Management, if used effectively and correctly, can identify areas of underperformance relatively early. Support, training and the right approach can, nine times out of ten, bring about improvements so that teaching is of an appropriate standard. Nor is there anything much on how to deal specifically with poor or incompetent teachers widely perceived to be a major systemic weakness. Sure the idea of teaching schools, akin to teaching hospitals looks good but in school CPD must also surely be a priority.

‘Case for Change’ does sketch ways to improve the quality of teachers throughout   their careers  but the main substantive recommendation, in this respect,  is to increase the amount of time trainee teachers will spend in schools.  Given that PGCE students already spend two-thirds of their time in school, this is hardly transformative.  There are 400,000 teachers in England.  Relying on improving training does not increase the quality of the vast number of teachers already in service. The Mckinsey report describes how Japan makes teachers take part in ‘lesson study’ where teachers work together refining lesson plans. In Boston teachers are guaranteed joint timetabled planning and in Finland teachers are given one afternoon per week for joint lesson planning.  The Government could do more to flesh out detail on CPD given its apparent importance and the thorny issue of how to deal with poor  teachers  who fail to improve.



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