We can, already, recognise competent, successful and excellent teaching. Prospective schoolteachers who satisfy a range of standards set by the Teacher Training Agency (TTA 1997b) are competent. Good and excellent teachers divide from the satisfactory via common ‘Office for Standards in Education’ criteria (Ofsted 1995): all school inspectors judge poor, acceptable and first-rate teaching using the same framework. Lately, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) has named six areas for excellence meant to guide the assessment of Advanced Skills Teaching (Sutton et al. 2000). These are: ‘achieving results; subject knowledge; lesson planning; motivating pupils and maintaining discipline; assessment and evaluation; supporting and advising colleagues’ (Sutton et al. 2000:418-419). So the TTA, Ofsted and DfEE, together, give us reliable ways of sorting out what is and is not quality teaching.
But standard guides, alone, do not deal with classroom specifics. Even the most detailed frameworks (e.g. Hay McBer 2000) have to be applied to particular circumstances by professionals themselves. Elements of practice that school inspectors are trained to inspect (planning, relationships, methods, work-setting, pace and subject knowledge) span broad classes and combinations of skill. Nothing is assumed about the precise content of lesson objectives, pupil—teacher relationships and strategies likely to work, what makes a lesson well paced or betrays how deeply into subjects teachers should reach. Inspectors—like all others who find their judgements prey to the unforeseen and unpredictable—accept that there are many ways to teach well. Teachers are paid to bring about learning in pupils, and factors that ease or impair learning are legion, since children enter schools with widely varying capabilities and ambitions, born from culturally and economically diverse backgrounds.