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The assessment of teacher competence, with specific reference to policy and practice in Natal : a critical analysis.

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In the educational world of the eighties, despite burgeoning technologies and the silicon chip, and despite a multiplicity of aims and philosophies of education, it is axion~tic that progress amongst learners depends on the effectiveness of teaching and so on the quality of teachers. The definition which "effective teaching" assumes in any particular society is determined, of course, by many inter-related factors, not least the prevailing political, religious and economic ideologies. The successful teacher is generally viewed, it would appear, as one who succeeds in the transmission or generation of "valid" knowledge, and judgment by others is impl icit in the concept of validity. Because participation in the process of learning at school is essentially a human experience, a matter of interpersonal relationships, any statement about it is open to question; but as the evaluation of teacher expertise plays an important role in systems of education, the methods and concerns of such evaluation merit close study. In the Republic of South Africa the evaluation of teacher competence has recently assumed considerable significance with the introduction of a "merit assessment" system, and one of the chief concerns of the present work is a critical study of such assessment. Related concerns include teacher attitude towards assessment (in which context the Natal Teachers' Society Conference motion 19 of 1981 is apposite: "That this Conference expresses its total opposition to the merit award system as presently implemented" Mentor September 1981 p.152) ; and the place of such assessment in the context of contemporary models of organization theory, of educational administration and of school management. Cognisance has been taken of the Report of the Human Sciences Research Council Investigation into Education (1981) which was initiated, in part, by "grave dissatisfaction in the teaching profession" 1, and which proposes real consultation for teachers in the administration of education, based on participation, involvement and negotiation. Though seen from a wide-ranging and international perspective, teacher competence will in this work ultimately be defined from a South African perspective; and as the data are Natal based, Natal will be taken as an example of the Republic of South Africa. However, sight will never be lost of broader perspectives. The concerns, aim and scope of this work do not end with teachers, but are also bound up with children for it is they whose benefit or advancement depends on competent teaching. In an attempt to determine what children thought about teacher effectiveness, Musgrove and Taylor (1969) analysed 1379 essays by school pupi 1s on the topi cs "A good teacher" and "A poor teacher". Sca 1es were drawn up with statements reflecting the ideas most frequently voiced by pupils on teaching method, discipline, teachers' personal qualities and organizing abilities, and these scales were subsequently tested on hundreds of other children and teachers. Musgrove and Taylor, in reviewing their research, concluded inter alia that "Pupils expect teachers to teach. They value lucid exposition, the clear statement of problems, and guidance in their solution. Personal qualities of kindness, sympathy and patience are secondary .... (teachers) are expected to assume an essentially intellectual and instrumental role." (as quoted by Morrison and McIntyre, p.17l) The findings tended to uphold the idea of a structured "formal" relationship reminiscent of Waller's 1932 dictum that the effective teacher should maintain a social distance from his pupils and be relatively meaningless as a person. Other writers such as Postman and Weingartner (1969) suggest very different advice to teachers! The meaning of "good teaching" will be investigated in chapter three of this work, in terms of a survey of the appropriate literature but the specific criteria of good teaching in a particular country, for example South Africa, depend on a range of overt and hidden factors, and are the material of much ongoing debate. " The variety of the comment calls to mind the important question of how a teacher's effectiveness mayor (perhaps more important) should be judged: whether in terms of instrumental goal-attainment by pupils, or in terms of personal growth through satisfying classroom relationships or somehow in between these ends. In a world where technology and its application in education through a skills-Qased or objectives-centred approach is tending to debase the essentially person-to-person element of teaching, the concept of competent teaching is in danger of being reduced to allegedly measurable entities. In true handbook tradition, some texts, for example Stones and Morris (1972), almost suggest checklists for success 1n teaching, thus reducing a complex act of communication to a set of clinical procedures. While inexperienced student teachers may need direction and guidance in the development of particular skills, there is a danger in viewing or assessing the qualified person merely in terms of such skills or categories. Esland (1977) distinguishes between two extremes in teacher presentation. One, the "psychometric", stresses measurable advancement and reflects a behaviourist outlook. The other, the "epistemological", finds expression in education which stresses personal development. Depending on how a society interprets the elements of curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation, identified by Bernstein and Young (1970) as basic to any process of education, or on what view of the teacher and his task prevails, the criteria of good teaching will vary. Apart from the mere criteria, there is the important matter of interpretation and subjectivity on the part of anyone attempting to evaluate performance in a complex web of interaction. When, in turn, evaluation (implying overall judgment) is linked with assessment (which by definition involves some kind of measurement and therefore presupposes valid units and instruments), as in the case in South Africa, the situation becomes more problematic. Any assessment system is obviously grounded on a philosophical view of man within the organization. In this regard Ramos (1975) has warned social scientists and organization theorists about holding outdated versions of the model of organizational man. He claims that many contemporary organizations have a mechanistic view or a humanistic view of employees, which ignore the fact that man has a rationality beyond administrative behaviour and that man "in striving to be autonomous, cannot be explained by the psychology of conformi ty" (Ramos, 1975, p. 50) • This model of man, Ramos asserts, has emerged from a wealthy technological society, and (he) "would have a strong sense of self and an urge to find meaning in life. He would not uncritically accept standards of achievement, though he might be a great achiever when assigned creative tasks" (ibid. p.51). It would be tragic if education authorities were to ignore the creative thinker with the capability to change the prevailing environment, or as Ramos terms him, the parenthetical man, through the development of assessment systems which promoted and rewarded conformity. It must be recognised that the teacher has virtually unparalleled responsibility in society, for his actions contribute to the fate of society; it is the teacher who, ideally, "critically appraises, edits, sifts and clarifies society's trends, extracts its highest values and makes them implicit in himself as a man .... and explicit in his teachings" (Prosser, 1976, p.6). Such actions imply leadership and initiative of the highest order, and remind one of the importance of the teacher as a humanizing influence and as an element of stability in a world of increasing change. A brief overview of the scope and coverage of this work now follows. Chapter one reviews the concepts of assessment, evaluation and quality in teaching. It sketches problem areas such as the difficulties of assessment within differing political and social systems, the demands for the accountability of teachers because of massive financial investment in education, and the position of a professional in a bureaucratic structure. Semantic differences emerging from the terms assessment, .evaluati_o~ and ~FlJr~lis~ hdve largely been ignored in this work because of differing usages in which the words tend to blend into synonyms. In the writer's own use of the words, influenced by the Concise Oxford Dictionary, evaluation is seen as the act of observing a teacher's performance and indicating general aspects of strength or weakness (from OF aprisier, ! - to and prlsler - praise). Appraisal (from F evaluer, e - ex and valuer - value) suggests a slightly more judgmental response based on specific aims or values. Assessment (from L assessare - a combination of frequent and sit, originally to fix taxes) is seen more as an act of judgment based on numerical or other fixed expressions. As previously indicated, current practice in South Africa attempts to combine these processes. In chapter two the focus shifts to the behaviour of people within organizations and the need to take into account organization theory, as well as administrative and managerial concepts, in order to establish implications for the assessment of teachers. Views of man, as an organizational being, are reviewed and current practices in hierarchical systems with regard to delegation of responsibility and development of staff are indicated. A specific consideration of the act of teaching occurs in chapter three, where a review of the literature on teacher competence is undertaken. No such review could be exhaustive, and is meant in the present context to serve as background rather than as a definitive pronouncement. Chapter four includes a consideration of procedures for the assessment of teacher competence within centralized and decentralized education authorities, and a comparative study of methods used in England, the United States and Australasia. A full account is given of the policy and practices of all aspects of teacher assessment, including assess-. ment for promotion, operating in the Natal Education Department, and comparisions are drawn with procedures in other provincial education authorities. The question of "merit assessment" of teachers in the Republic of South Africa is broached and teacher reaction to it is indicated. In chapter five, an historical and criticdl account is given of the assessment of teachers in South Africa, with specific reference to Natal, and with emphasis on the "merit assessment" system as established in 1978. A detailed study is made of answers to a questionnaire drawn up by the writer and distributed to assessors of teachers in two education authorities in Natal. Chapter six contains a summary of major conclusions ar1s1ng from the study. Innovations are suggested, on established principles, with a view to recommending change 1n the assessment of teachers. The situation in Natal is borne 1n mind throughout, but the conclusions and suggestions are of a general nature.


Thesis (M.Ed.)-University of Natal, 1982.


Teachers--Rating of--KwaZulu-Natal., Theses--Education.