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It is pertinent here to point out that the resistance to supervision is an expression of a more general resistance to external evaluation on the part of teachers. This can be interpreted as a reflection of their professional autonomy or as a corporatist protection of their privileges.
What is clear is that this is a phenomenon that transcends national boundaries.
Thirdly, the lack of impact is directly related to the lack of attention given to the follow-up to supervision. Evidently, when reports are short and superficial or simply shelved without being distributed, it is hardly surprising that they lead to little follow-up. In addition, in many countries, solutions to the problems which supervisors may identify going from leaky roofs to absent teachers, are not under their control but demand action by local government or by ministry departments. A deeper challenge lies in the complexity of the link between evaluation and action. It is a fallacy to believe that evaluation results (be they in the form of supervision reports, exam results or audit conclusions) will quickly and easily lead to a change in realities or practices. The causes of the evaluation result are interpreted in many different ways and each interpretation (if not, the result itself) is contested. One complexity especially in the area of education is that there is seldom a single factor at stake. To give on example, poor quality of teaching can be linked to lack of teacher training, poor leadership by principals, ineffective supervision, politicized recruitment practices, lack of pedagogical resources, inappropriate or insufficient incentives and so on. Even if there is agreement on the causes and on the recommendation to overcome these, their implementation may take time.
Evaluation recommendations almost always have an impact on the position and power of different actors and those who feel that their authority is under threat will unavoidably oppose reforms. Moreover, very regularly implementation of recommendations demands coordination between different agencies and offices, which goes counter the sense of independence of many such officers and especially of supervisors.
Against this complex background, a growing number of countries have since some 15 to 20 years implemented reforms in their school monitoring systems, including the supervision service. These reforms have taken place within a political and ideological context characterised, on the one hand, by doubts about the effectiveness of the state as a major development actor and especially as an evaluator of its own action and, on the other hand, by a conviction that a more effective State demands a new public management, characterized by a greater level of decentralisation and local autonomy, but also by more stringent external evaluation and an emphasis on public accountability. In certain countries, this has led to a complete rethinking of the monitoring system; in others some marginal tinkering has taken place. We can organize these reforms in four groups.
A first set of reforms is based on the conviction that school supervision can be an effective tool of external evaluation, but in order to do so, its mandate and organization needs to be reviewed. The following paragraphs look first at changes in the mandate, then the structure of supervision and finally at attempts to make the follow-up to supervision more consistent.
The reformulation of the mandate aims at simplifying the role of the supervisor. This can take in principle three forms: either by focussing on the control task, or on the support task, or by creating two separate corps for these two separate tasks. Examples of the first approach can be found in New Zealand and in England & Wales, where governments created specific school inspection bodies, whose main task is to exercise control over schools and teachers: the Education Review Office (ERO) in New Zealand in 1989 and the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) in England and Wales in 1992. The province of Gauteng, SouthAfrica’s richest province, has also set up in 2001 an Office for Standards in Education with a similar control-oriented mandate. In the developing world, there are more examples of countries who have opted for the second approach, namely a shift towards giving supervisors a greater role in supporting and advising teachers. Already in the mid-1970s in Peru, special technico-pedagogic adviser posts were created at the levels of regions, zones and nuclei, whose focus was on giving support and support alone. About the same time, similar changes occurred in Venezuela and Costa Rica (Oliveira …). A more recent example comes from Mali, where in 2002 the inspection units were transformed into pedagogical advice centres.
Among the countries which have separated control from support and have in the 1990s created a specific corps of pedagogical advisors, we can quote Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Changes in the organization of supervision have generally consisted of creating an additional level of supervisors, closer to the schools and thus able to more regularly and consistently interact with teachers. This is an evident response to the expansion of the education system and accompanies in many cases a further deconcentration of the ministerial administration.
Belize for instance has set up in the 1990s administrative structures around existing district education centres, which includes the transfer of education officers away from the central Ministry offices and the establishment of District Councils. A second example comes from Guinea which created in the late 1990s under the district office a group of délégués scolaires de l’enseignement élémentaire based closer to the schools, with less schools to supervise and therefore, in principle, able to offer consistent support. Already in the late 1970s, Pakistan created the corps of learning coordinators and Bangladesh the sub-district education officers (Lockheed and Verspoor, 1991, p.131).
Attempts to strengthen the follow-up to supervision also belong in this category of reforms.
This can take different forms, such as a systematic follow-up visit some months after a first visit or the obligation on the school to prepare a report indicating how it intends to take action upon the supervisors’ recommendations. Rather few countries have addressed this issue headon. Even in developed countries, where the issue of resources to ensure follow-up action should be less of a constraint, in only a minority of cases. A study on 28 European education systems identified six where a systematic follow-up visit is supposed to be undertaken, twelve where there is no provision for such a visit and ten others where only in certain cases (especially when the school’s performance is not satisfactory) there is a follow-up visit (Eurydice, 2004, p.89-90).
Probably the most systematic approach is followed by OFSTED:
the inspection report identifies areas for improvement and schools have to produce action plans within 40 working days of an inspection, indicating how they will act upon recommendations. Copies of the plan or a summary of it must be distributed to all parents.
Such a systematic approach is quite exceptional and I do not know of any developing country which has successfully implemented it. A few projects aimed at transforming supervision which focus on a groups of schools and not on the overall system, have made attempts to reinforce follow-up. One interesting example comes from a project on plantation schools in Sri Lanka during the 1990s (Perera, 1997). Resource persons were specifically contracted for the project; each worked with a fairly small number of schools, which they visited every few weeks. Each visit took the form of a discussion workshop with teachers to identify areas for improvement and in between visits all teachers in a personal activity book wrote down what they had done to improve on an area under their responsibility. The project did succeed for some time in improving the internal school culture and their performances, but a longer-term evaluation of its impact was not undertaken. It did not have a direct impact though on the ministry’s supervision system.
None of these steps are easy to implement and none guarantees automatically a more effective supervision process. Their impact in any case is difficult to assess, for at least two reasons. On the one hand, few impact studies have been undertaken, and those studies tend to examine mainly easy to collect data such as the number of visits rather than the nature of these visits or their influence on teachers. On the other hand, judgments depend on the point of view of the evaluator: for instance the creation of OFSTED has certainly strengthened central control over schools, which was one of the reform’s objectives but this in itself has been decried by teachers as detrimental to their professionalism. Some positive elements can be identified.
The move in Mali from inspection to pedagogical advice has been welcomed by teachers and has allowed these services to function more effectively, though this is partly because this reform was accompanied by a strengthening of advisory offices in staff and financial resources (Lugaz and De Grauwe, 2006).
The implementation of this first set of reforms has encountered several challenges. In developing countries, the first challenge is in many cases the lack of resources, for instance to set up a series of well functioning offices close to schools (UNESCO/PROAP, 1991; Carron et al, 1998, De Grauwe, 2001). However, the fact that much richer countries have also struggled with these reforms indicate more profound constraints. They concern for instance
the fact that a new post description is by far not sufficient to change the culture of a service:
supervisors, who always have exercised control and have seen such control as a form of power, are not easily transformed into actors offering collegial support to teachers. As other management reforms have proven, it is a lot easier to change structures and terminology than to transform ingrained cultures and traditions. There is also the risk of conflicts between these groups and confusion among teachers who get contrasting advice e.g. from inspectors and pedagogical advisors, who have different opinions on the correct teaching methods. This factor was identified for instance in Lesotho as a core constraint to quality improvement (Newth and Whalley, 2002). Research on the follow-up to OFSTED inspection visits in England (Gray and Wilcox, 1995; Chapman, 2005), which demand that schools prepare action plans, indicate that only the straightforward recommendations related for instance to report completion or administrative procedures are easily implemented but that anything which demands a change in teaching or leadership practices takes much time or does not get implemented at all. One of the reasons lies in the lack of support to schools in this regard.
Once again, the lack of balance between support and control is at stake, even in a context where teachers are well qualified professionals. Evidently, in contexts where teachers have low qualifications and little training, such support is even more necessary.
A second series of reform trends aims at strengthening internal school evaluation processes.
In many schools, such an evaluation has always existed informally, with teachers discussing during staff meetings their problems and possible solutions. These take now a more formal character, through the preparation of a school improvement plan or a genuine evaluation report. By recognizing the role of the internal processes, these reforms recognize the professionalism of teachers and their right to a form of self-evaluation, as has been the case at university level since a much longer time. They also put into question the role of external evaluation, which will have to look for new arrangements with the school. The key rationale for this emphasis on internal evaluation is the conviction that sustainable change in the school demands participation and commitment by the teachers. These internal evaluations can involve a cluster of neighbouring schools or the individual school.
School clusters have been throughout the years a popular strategy, which has many objectives including strengthening supervision within this cluster (Bray, 1987; Carron and De Grauwe, 1997; Giardano, 2008). The most successful ones are those which have originated from the school level upwards, in response precisely to the weakness of external supervision and support. This was the case for instance, in the 1970s already, of the Zonas de influéncia pedagogica in Mozambique (Hoppers, 1997) or, since the beginning of this decade, the Collectives des directeurs in Senegal. These principal groups were the initiative of a few school principals who, because of the lack of visits by supervisors, decided to organize such visits themselves, with a few directors visiting in a group their respective schools. This not only allowed schools to learn from such a visit; it also strengthened the linkages between schools and broke possible isolation. Moreover, it made school staff feel responsible for its own improvement and proud of their success. However, with the nation-wide generalization of this initiative, some problems have cropped up: the lack of financial support by the national authorities makes some principals reluctant to participate. And because these collectives have no sanctioning power, not all teachers pay attention to their advice. Several principals and supervisors are therefore asking for a recognition of these groups as a full supervisory actor.
Experiences in other places, for instance Nepal or even France, show however that once these structures become integrated into the administrative set-up, they tend to loose their originality and to focus on administrative control to the detriment of pedagogical support (Khaniya, 1997; Knamiller, 1999; Dutercq, 2000).