Education & Family

Poor teachers face tougher system under shake-up

Teacher and pupil
Image caption Ofsted's annual report complained teaching standards in England's schools were too variable

Plans to make it easier for head teachers in England to sack underperforming staff are to go ahead from September, the government says.

It says poor teachers could be removed within a term instead of a year, which can be the case at present.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, says schools have been "tangled in red tape" for too long when dealing with struggling staff.

Teachers' unions say the changes are draconian and a bully's charter.

The government proposed the changes in May last year.

It has now confirmed that the procedure for dealing with underperforming teachers will be "simplified" and given a shorter minimum timeframe.

It says in straightforward cases, the process could be completed in nine weeks.

There will also be a requirement for teachers to be assessed every year on whether they meet new standards, which cover teaching and "personal and professional conduct".

And a current three-hour limit on the time a head can observe in a teacher's classroom in a year has been lifted.

The government is also consulting on proposals that it says would deal with the problem of poor teachers being moved on from school to school.

This would mean that if a school made inquiries about a teacher it was thinking of hiring, previous employers would have to say, if asked, whether he or she had been through what are known as "capability procedures".

Mr Gove said there were many excellent teachers and heads - and that the changes would improve schools by helping them identify extra training needs.

"For far too long, schools have been tangled up in complex red tape when dealing with teachers who are struggling," he said.

"That is why these reforms focus on giving schools the responsibility to deal with this issue fairly and quickly.

"Schools need to be able to dismiss more quickly those teachers who, despite best efforts, do not perform to the expected standard. Future employers also need to know more about the strengths and weaknesses of teachers they are potentially employing.

"Nobody benefits when poor teaching is tolerated. It puts pressure on other teachers and undermines children's education."

Mr Gove told BBC Breakfast that the planned process "only kicks in when it's clear that there are problems".

He added: "And that term is an opportunity for a teacher who has resisted every encouragement so far to improve what they do, to finally focus on getting their act together, or acknowledge that perhaps, whatever their talents, they should move on to another profession."

The annual report of England's schools inspectors Ofsted in November highlighted variable teaching standards as a cause for concern.

It said: "Although teaching has been judged to be inadequate this year in just 3% of schools, it is a serious concern that teaching in over 40% of primary and secondary schools is no better than satisfactory and is only outstanding in around 4%."

However, the inspectors said the quality of teaching in schools had improved.

The changes come as the government disbands the General Teaching Council for England - the teachers' professional body which took decisions on whether teachers should be barred.

It is being replaced by the new Teaching Agency which will hear the most serious cases involving misconduct.

Decisions about whether to sack teachers are taken at school level.

Head teachers had asked for changes to the present system.

Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "The simplest way to protect teachers is to be seen to be taking responsibility for our own performance.

"Everyone deserves to know how they are doing and how they can develop, and this needs to be done out in the open. The revised procedures reflect a large proportion of NAHT's hopes. They are simple and flexible, firm but fair.

"A streamlined approach to capability will, on the rare occasions that it is needed, help schools act more decisively in pupils' interests and reduce the conflict that these actions can generate."

'Improve teachers'

But unions representing classroom teachers have criticised the changes.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The changes to the appraisal and capability policies will rightly be seen by teachers as an attack on their professionalism and will anger and depress them in equal measure.

"What the government proposes is potentially a bully's charter.

"If schools are serious about addressing the issue of teacher competence should it arise, they must do it in a fair fashion and not be constrained by a one-term time limit. It is far better to improve teachers than to seek measures to sack them."

Ms Blower also told BBC Breakfast that there were teachers who, for a variety of reasons, "may go through a period when they're not absolutely performing as well as everyone would want.

"But with help and support they can do. So let's make sure that every teacher is supported so they can do the best job they can."

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said the changes were draconian and based on "manipulated evidence".

"There is no evidence the current system is not working," she said.

"The powers used for disputes are exactly the same processes that responsible employers are using.

"This is hugely demoralising for all those hard-working teachers."

UK picture

Education is devolved around the UK.

In Scotland, decisions on whether to sack teachers are taken by the local authority employers rather than schools.

If someone is dismissed, the case can then be referred to the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which could take a decision to bar a teacher.

The GTCS is consulting on processes for dealing with incompetent teachers.

In Wales, there has been a consultation on the system for appraising teachers.

A spokesman for the Welsh government said: "It is important that poor performance in schools is dealt with effectively and fairly to ensure that standards across the board are not affected.

"Although we currently have no plans to change the current system relating to capability of teachers, we are working on comprehensive guidance to ensure the procedures we do have in place work effectively."

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