Schools must 'gird loins' to get rid of bad teachers

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Heads and senior school managers must "gird their loins" and rid their classrooms of incompetent teachers, the new chairman of the House of Commons select committee on education says today.

In his first interview since taking office, Graham Stuart acknowledged that heads would need more training to carry out the task of sacking bad teachers. He was speaking as a BBC Panorama investigation to be broadcast tonight reveals that only 18 teachers have been struck off because of incompetence in the past four decades.

This is against a background of senior government education advisers and the former chief schools inspector Chris Woodhead claiming that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 incompetent teachers in state schools.

The General Teaching Council for England, which is being axed by the new Education Secretary Michael Gove, admitted that the sacking of only 18 teachers in 40 years lacked credibility.

However, its chief executive, Keith Bartley, has put the blame on local authorities for failing to refer cases of incompetence to the regulatory body.

Mr Stuart told The Independent: "Heads and heads of department need to be given more training so they can tackle these problems.

"If you're struggling to turn a school round, quite a lot of staff can be pushed out. Typically, though, sometimes now, they don't leave the profession but they just go and get a job in another school – the school thinks the further away the better and so gives them a reference.

"They need to gird their loins and get the person out so they don't damage anyone's education."

He added: "I'm pleased at the abolition of the GTC because all the evidence seemed to point to the fact it was not doing its job effectively.

"If we're going to give schools more freedom, that level of freedom has to be balanced with accountability – and it needs to be at school level that this problem is tackled."

Tonight's programme will highlight the case of one teacher who was struck off, Denise McKillop, who said she was originally offered a deal of accepting a good reference and leaving her school. "If that is being offered to me who else is it being offered to?" she asked.

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that in his time as a headteacher there had been several instances of new staff turning up and it becoming quickly apparent that there had been "some errors of judgement" in their references.

The Department for Education said Mr Gove was still considering what would take over the General Teaching Council's functions – whether its regulatory role would be taken over by civil servants or whether a new regulatory body should be created. Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the parents' pressure group Parents' Outloud, said there needed to be national guidelines for tackling incompetence. "You need to know that if you move to, say, Leicester they are just as efficient at tackling the problem as Bedfordshire," she said.

"Parents do worry a lot about incompetent teachers, but I can't think of any action where parents have complained about incompetent teachers – where their complaints have been upheld."

Mr Stuart, the MP for Beverley and Holderness, gained a reputation in the last Parliament as one of the most tenacious questioners of witnesses who came before the select committee. He has an interesting CV for his new job, having flunked his degree course at Cambridge University.

"I'd started a publishing business during my time at Cambridge," he said, "which took up my time.

"I'd always originally planned to become a barrister but decided to stay an entrepreneur."

Mr Stuart sends his two daughters to a private school.