Bad teachers will be sacked in four weeks

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The Independent Online
Government plans for new procedures to dismiss grossly incompetent teachers within four weeks are unfair and politically-motivated, teachers said yesterday. Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, who announced the scheme, told the Commons: "A grossly incompetent pilot would not be allowed to remain in the cockpit of a plane, a grossly incompetent surgeon would not remain in the operating theatre.

"Teachers should not be treated differently. A grossly incompetent teacher should not be allowed to remain in the classroom adversely affecting the life chances of the children for which they have responsibility."

He said the new fast-track procedures would be directed, for example, at teachers who could not control classes. At present, there are five separate stages for disciplining poor teachers, and the process, from a warning to a disciplinary hearing, can take 18 months.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Teachers will question whether procedures are fair if arbitrary time- limits are imposed. What may work in one month in one case, may need a longer period of time in another. The need is to identify fair and effective procedures, not short-circuit them."

Eamonn O'Kane, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said that fair procedures should not be swept aside in the interests of a political objective: "We don't think it is wise at this stage to enter into open discussion about an issue which needs to be discussed in a lot more detail."

But Rowie Shaw, director of professional services at the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We have no objection in principle to procedures being speeded up as long as we are still maintaining the principles of natural justice."

Mr Byers, who was opening a debate in the Commons on the schools White Paper, said the real challenge was not the 300 schools identified as failing but the need to raise standards in the 40 to 50 per cent of schools that were "coasting".

He promised to reverse a Government defeat in the Lords which would allow assisted places pupils at private preparatory schools to retain them until they were 13, instead of 11. It was, he added, "a classic example of privilege defending privilege".

Meanwhile, Stephen Dorrell, the shadow Secretary of State for Education, told the Council of Local Education Authorities conference in Bristol that "the heavy hand of government" revealed in the White Paper would deprive individual teachers and schools of their freedom. In his first speech since his appointment to the education portfolio, the former health secretary said the proposals added up to "a formidable list of of interventions".

He accused David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, of "a statist vision" and of telling teachers how to teach. "We are all entitled to hold the professions to account for the results that they deliver, but responsibility for delivering excellence in schools rests with the teaching profession."