Sunday, 18 November 2012


School Performance Appraisal Meeting….. SPAM for short! I was given a yellowed, foolscap document, a couple of weeks ago and asked to brief Circuit Supervisors about conducting SPAM.
There are readers of this blog who have sat through many a similar meeting with me in school, under a range of different acronyms ……. and right now I can’t remember any of those!! The meetings I recall well and the feeling that any shortfall in test data was probably my fault. Hours we spent pouring over percentages and figures beating ourselves up over the one child who missed the target by half a mark which threw the whole show and landed us in hot water with an imminent OFSTED inspection. (I’m quietly having a panic attack at the thought, now.) The children were never at fault, nor parents blamed. All test data appeared as black shadows over the shoulders of the teachers and ultimately, the Head. Accountability with a capital A.

Anyway, I arrived at a Junior High School this morning where a group of maybe 25 parents, many with a hoe under their seat, were assembled under a tree with the school staff. The Head had very efficiently made an agenda for the meeting and had run through the data for the school’s BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination) test results for last year. These results determine who is promoted to the Senior High Schools, of which there are few in this region and these are seriously over crowded. This school had achieved a 27.3% pass rate. Also, please bear in mind that the school decides who will take the exams each year. If a student looks unlikely to pass, they can be told to register the following year.

These parents showed great concern for their children’s success and were quite forthcoming with ideas for bringing improvement. I expected the meeting to present itself in 2 halves. The parents would suggest how they could send their children well fed, rested, having completed homework etc. Then the school would explain where their extra effort and focus was to be placed. The second part didn’t happen though! Clearly, any poor showing of results was squarely the responsibility of the pupils and in turn, their parents. Mobile phones seemed to take most of the blame and one father told everyone how he had burned 2 last week! All of this meeting was conducted in Dagaare, of course.

The final point on the agenda was for the school to set targets. Ah, I thought, this is where they reveal how they will raise standards for 2013. There was a slight exchange of banter between teachers and the figure of 30% was rapidly confirmed as the target. “Think of a number,” came to mind. Suddenly, it was all over. We were on our feet for the Closing Prayer and the parents shuttled off at speed to their farms. Later on I thought further about this and realised it is the issue of methodology again. If you teach everything from a text book and only have chalk as a resource, there are few strategies for teaching differently and nobody is looking for them! The Director was surprised when I said the schools should be offering improvement strategies at the SPAM meetings. This clearly hadn’t occurred to her either.

Before I left the school I was invited to speak to the Form 3 students who will be in the “hot seats” for 2013 in April. “Something motivational”, was required! Briefly, I retold the Ghanaian fable of the orphan eagle chick who was raised believing he was a chicken and refusing to spread his wings and show his true potential in the skies. The students listened attentively and seemed to comprehend when I asked if they were chickens or eagles.

As I kick started Michael to take me home, I wondered whether they had much chance to be eagles when their teachers predominantly, scratch for grain!! 

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