School supervision is a school-college-based practice that engages teachers in a dialogue on the improvement of teaching and learning. One of the main roles of this system is to monitor the quality of education and support the teachers in their efforts to provide the best possible education. Thus the supervision is part of the overall quality and improvement system in schools.
There are three methods of supervision: bureaucratic, democratic and scientific. The bureaucratic method is control-oriented and seeks efficiency above all else. It attracted much opposition by teachers.
The democratic method emerged as an alternative to the bureaucratic. When implementing this method, supervisors attempt to apply more scientific methods and to be supportive to teachers, helping them to solve problems instead of evaluating their work. Scientific supervision attempts to implement objective criteria in evaluating quality of teaching. Supervisors must have initially formulated objectives and measurement criteria.
Supervisory practices have evolved since they were established in the 16th century. During the 1970s, supervision was given a negative connotation and in some countries became a taboo. Inspection was seen as old-fashioned and non-democratic. Many countries did not prepare or publish any data or statistics on supervision.
But by the beginning of the 1990s, the worldwide interest on quality, as well as its monitoring and supervision, had been revived. Some countries, such as the Philippines, that had dismantled their supervision service, re-established it during this decade. Others, like China and Sweden, created them for first time. The main reason for the renewed interest in supervision was the rapid expansion of education that led to lower quality in many countries. This made policy makers worldwide put their focus on quality control in schools and set it as their top priority.
The increasing autonomy, which in some countries includes freedom of schools in making decisions on the curriculum, staff management and budget, raises the demand for accountability in schools. It has also increased the request for monitoring procedures that should allow central governments to guarantee equal standards in all schools.
In most countries supervision is located outside schools and has local, regional or central level. People working in these institutions are called inspectors, supervisors, advisers, counselors, coordinators or facilitators. In some countries schools rely more on internal mechanisms of supervision, where principals, teachers, community members and even pupils have some responsibility for the quality of education.
The organization of supervision services depends on the size of a country, of its educational system and the management structure. For example, in small island states there is often no intermediary institution between ministry and schools. In most countries the organization of supervision services exists in each level of the education administration - central, regional and local. The central level usually focuses on evaluation of the system as a whole, while local level is in charge with the inspections in schools. Many countries have separate supervision services for primary and secondary schools.
To bridge the gap between schools and supervisors, several countries created additional levels of supervision under the level closest to school. They include district and sub-district offices. These new levels had as main focus to provide support of teachers instead of just controlling them.
The second type of reform is to create clusters of schools and resource centers. This strengthens the collaboration between schools. This strategy provides schools the opportunity to benefit each other's experience and expertise. It aims to replace the external supervision at some point. Many countries allow schools to determine their own policies and set quality standards. In these schools the role of external supervisors is taken by a special category of master teachers.