Education: Fast-track sacking for poor performance teachers

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The Independent Online
Around 900 teachers in England and Wales could be at risk of swift dismissal under rigorous new procedures for sacking incompetent staff.

Lucy Ward explains how the unions are supporting a scheme that allows for the removal of the worst teachers in less than a month.

Doug McAvoy, leader of the National Union of Teachers, yesterday insisted that only a "very, very small minority" of the profession would fall foul of the toughest sanctions in new competence procedures. He estimated that 900 staff currently teaching were failing so badly they would risk being removed in just four weeks after a warning over their performance.

Mr McAvoy made his comments after six teaching unions had unanimously supported revised procedures, which are also backed by employers, governors and churches.

The proposals, which have still to be finally approved by the schools standards minister, Stephen Byers, will slash the time needed to remove failing teachers from as long as two years to four weeks. At most, staff found to be under-performing will be given two terms in which to improve.

Mr McAvoy, speaking on BBC1's Breakfast News, based his estimate of the number of seriously incompetent staff on the proportion found to be failing during inspections carried out by the schools watchdog, Ofsted.

Out of 48,000 teachers whose lessons have been observed, 88 have been judged to be failing, scoring six or seven on a scale of one to seven.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which also signed up to the new procedures, said that the overwhelming majority of teachers were committed and very hard-working. But he added: "If a small minority of teachers are calling that commitment into question, then we need to do something about that."

Despite their duty to protect members, unions are conscious of the need to weed out those who give the profession a bad name. However, they have always insisted there are far fewer such staff than has been suggested by Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, who has claimed that there are about 15,000 incompetent teachers.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, welcomed the agreement. "Parents and governors and good teachers will be reassured that action will be taken where it is appropriate, and that the emergency steps can be brought to bear within a month if things have gone drastically wrong," he said.

The so-called "capability procedures", published yesterday by the conciliation service Acas, are not designed to deal with problems of teacher misconduct or ill-health.

Where teachers are found to be failing to teach to an acceptable standard, they will be given improvement targets to meet. Despite initial opposition from unions, the agreement provides for the removal in four weeks of staff whose incompetence jeopardises children's education.

However, following union pressure, a category of "gross incompetence" proposed by local authority employers has not been included in the final document.