Children can learn from bad teachers, Ofsted chair says

Image caption, There are more than 500,000 registered teachers in the UK

It is not "an absolute disaster" if schools contain bad teachers, the chairman of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has told the BBC.

Zenna Atkins, stressing these were her personal views, earlier told the Sunday Times "every school should have a useless teacher".

She later said she did not mean schools should tolerate bad teachers.

Ofsted said it had an "unshakeable commitment to ensuring children benefit from good teachers in every lesson".


Ms Atkins had told the paper that schools should not try to get rid of every inadequate teacher.

She told the BBC: "If kids can manage to cope with one bad teacher that'll be a good learning lesson for them in life - it is not necessarily an absolute disaster.

"What is an absolute disaster is if the leadership doesn't know that there is a bad teacher and leadership is not doing anything about it."

She added she believed it was the responsibility of each school to weed out bad teachers.

"As a leader you need to be making sure that these people are performing as well as they can, and if, frankly as well as they can isn't good enough, then you have to have the courage of your convictions and get rid of them", she said.

"At a very young age, really poor teaching can be very damaging.

"I've seen that happen time and again where they have crushed children.

"That's the responsibility of the leadership to get rid of those people and not just accept the excuses.

She said pupils could play a significant part in effecting change and improving schools and said she would not "underestimate" the ability of eight-year-olds to identify poor teachers.

"Children are a lot more savvy about these things than we ever give them credit for.

"When you go around and talk to them and say who is the best teacher in this school, you get pretty consistent responses from the kids.

'Huge ally'

"They know what good looks like. It won't necessarily be the teacher they like the best but they know.

"They can be huge ally for schools in helping improve teachers' performance and helping to get out the teachers you need to get out.

Last year, Ofsted's annual report warned of a "stubborn core of inadequate teaching" taking place in schools in England.

The chief inspector of schools for England, Christine Gilbert, attacked teachers who were holding school improvements back.

But on Sunday Ms Atkins told the BBC that schools needed to reflect society, especially at primary level.

"In society there are people you don't like, there are people who are incompetent and there are often people above you in authority who you think are incompetent, and learning that ability to deal with that and, actually surviving that environment can be an advantage.

"I certainly don't think we should be encouraging bad teachers"

Ms Atkins, who is leaving her job at the end of August to take up a role with a private education company, said state education could learn lessons from the way industry works.

"I do think we do have a culture of accepting poor and inadequate teachers, and they're not challenged and managed out in the same way as you would do in industry where you know that your staff who are poorly performing are actually costing you money and eating into your profits."

She said it was a myth that it was too hard to get rid of bad teachers.

Last week the BBC's Panorama revealed that 18 UK teachers have been struck off for incompetence in the past 40 years, despite estimates that up to 17,000 teachers were not up to the job.

Some bad teachers are moved between schools, rather than having their competency challenged, it emerged.

Prof Simon Burgess, from Bristol University, who researched the impact of a bad teacher on pupil performance, told Panorama that he was surprised by the gap between the results of children with teachers ranked in the top 5% on ability and those in the bottom 5%.

"If you took all these people out, stopped them from teaching the children and replaced them even with just average teachers, that would be something like half a grade per pupil," he said.

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