At present, teachers in England and Wales are experiencing changes to their jobs and status more rapid than any most will remember. They can still (just about) claim to belong to the same profession. But they are increasingly grouped differently in terms of their performance. Those with ‘advanced’ skills, those who have cleared performance thresholds to win more pay, those on a ‘fast track to promotion’ work alongside others who have no privileged status. They are appraised via a range of criterion-based systems (including Ofsted inspection). They are publicly accountable to parents, peers and school governors. They are separated via targets and league-tables into those who match up to expectation and those who do not. They may be counselled on their shortcomings by ‘performance managers’. The policy of ‘outsourcing’ as a way of turning around failing Schools and local education authorities accelerates, so some teachers are, now, being guided by those whose educational credentials may be professionally dubious.
Such ‘reforms’ (most introduced by the present government during its previous term of office) are all based on a belief that good teaching is a single, unitary process, to be agreed by practitioners, inspectors, appraisers, parents, governors, performance managers, private consultants and contractors or whoever. Despite inconsistencies built into the various assessment and appraisal systems presently used, reformers seem to take for granted that there are, to hand, sure-fire ways of separating the good from the bad, the advanced from the less advanced, those who satisfy expectation from those who do not. This assumption is named in the ensuing text, ‘the myth of the formula’. It is believed false. A single cohesive blueprint for checking any teacher’s performance, to which most professionals agree and which can be applied justly, cannot be devised. Educational and social scientific theory has always supported divergent models of good practice arising in settings which make comparative assessments between teachers and schools problematic. It is not that we cannot tell good from