Defining and measuring quality teaching: is it getting the attention it deserves?

Written by Amy Lightfoot – Assistant Director (Academic), Schools, English and Skills  

Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had? What made him or her ‘the best’? Was it because he or was funny, or kind? Or because she was generous with her praise … or selfish, so you felt you’d really earned it when it came? Or was it because he just really knew his stuff and how to make a class of 30 kids want to find out more? What are the qualities that make a good teacher … or the best teacher?

On a personal level, we can define our favourite teachers and easily discuss why we liked them so much. But do these personal judgements really tell us whether or not a teacher is good at his or her job? How can we best determine whether a teacher is really providing quality in the classroom? How can we best evaluate teacher performance, in a way that is supportive and helps the teacher to further develop her skills? These are some of the questions that have formed the basis of a recent project of inquiry led by the British Council.

We set out to answer these questions using a two pronged approach. First, we have commissioned a review of the global literature to try to better understand the different ways that teachers – specifically English language teachers – are evaluated around the world. Together with Dr Simon Borg, we have been exploring the varied terminology and strategies employed by different education systems to measure teacher and teaching quality. A clear outcome of this work has been the realisation that there is relatively little research conducted specifically around how English language teachers are evaluated or assessed. The full review will be published at the beginning of next year.

Secondly, we’re developing national-level case studies of practices, tools and processes used in teacher evaluation. The first of these will come from India. The purpose of these case studies is to shine a brighter light on specific contexts, setting out the current state of play and considering the contextual differences which may impact on the adoption of one approach or another when it comes to teacher evaluation.

To try and ensure as detailed a picture as possible of the varied India context, we convened a group of representatives from 23 different organisations and government agencies, along with several independent consultant experts, to share their knowledge and experience gained while working across the teacher education sector in India. Over the course of two meetings the group has wrestled with definitions, lamented the many challenges and shared inspiring stories of positive interventions and programmes taking place across the country.

Collectively, the group has identified what they believe to be the key features of an effective approach to teacher evaluation and considered the practical application of this at different levels of the system. This input is complemented by data from a series of focus groups with teachers, conducted across the country. These features and findings will be shared in detail in the case study report.

Several high quality tools exist, but consistent and standardised implementation at scale remains a challenge. An important message from the many of the participants has been the need for changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviour at all levels of the system in order for teaching quality to be adequately assessed in a meaningful way. As one participant in the group said, ‘evaluation tools are useful but you have to create the culture, the organisation and the climate for them to work’.

Improving learning outcomes has become a key priority in India, as elsewhere, in recent years. Within this, it is clear that a focus on defining quality teaching and how this is assessed is extremely important. This project aims to continue the conversation about how to address this issue and offer some practical recommendations for moving forward at the school, state and national levels.

Both the global literature review and the India case study will be published in early 2018.

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