Teachers 'in the firing line', says Michael Gove


Teachers have a responsibility to make sure pupils behave and succeed or they will find themselves "in the firing line", Michael Gove suggested today.

The Education Secretary said that teachers who do not see their class improve could be removed from the classroom.

His comments came as the Government confirmed controversial plans to allow schools to sack under-performing teachers in just a term.

The move, which will come into force this autumn, has left ministers at loggerheads with teachers' unions, which condemned it as "draconian" and a "potential bully's charter".

It has also caused a divide between teachers' unions and those that represent headteachers, which broadly support the proposals.

Under the new arrangements, first announced last May, schools will be able to remove poor teachers from the classroom in about a term - a process that currently takes a year or longer.

The three-hour limit on observing teachers in the classroom will also be scrapped, to allow schools to decide on observation times.

And teachers will be assessed every year against a set of key skills known as Teachers' Standards.

The measures are part of an attempt by Government to crack down on poor teaching, amid concerns that it damages children's education.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Gove said the move to reduce the time it takes to sack weak members of staff would force teachers to "focus".

"This process only kicks in when it's clear there are problems 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."

When asked if a teacher whose class does not improve will be "in the firing line", he replied: "Yes."

Mr Gove added: "It's their responsibility to ensure that children behave and that children succeed."

He refused to be drawn on how many teachers would be affected by the proposals, saying it would be up to headteachers to make decisions on where improvement was needed in their staff.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Of course it's the job of all teachers to help children to progress, and of course behaviour in the classroom needs to be orderly and safe.

"Ofsted inspections say that the vast majority of schools are safe and orderly places and learning is going on."

She added: "Michael Gove can't be in a position to say that every single thing that might go wrong with a child's education may be down to the teacher when we know that what goes on outside the classroom may have an impact."

Ms Blower said the measures will "anger and depress" teachers, who will see them as an attack on their professionalism.

"What the Government proposes is potentially a bully's charter. The union believes that many well-functioning schools, where development and professionalism is prized, will not adopt Mr Gove's model."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "This is yet another depressingly predictable announcement from a Government seemingly intent on destroying the teaching profession and state education.

"The draconian measures announced today are totally unnecessary. There is no evidence which demonstrates that there are problems with the current system."

Ms Keates agreed that teachers have a responsibility to do the best they can for children, but said they are also entitled to be managed properly and supported.

She added: "Equally, we can't remove responsibility from parents, because clearly, parents also have responsibility to make sure their children come to school ready to learn."

Ms Keates accused Mr Gove of "manipulating information and being selective with evidence".

"What the Secretary of State of course fails to say is that there is no evidence that the current system is not working," she told BBC News.

"He also fails to point out that the procedures used for the discipline and dismissal of teachers are exactly the same procedures that responsible employers across the public and private sector are using, because they base them on the national Acas codes of practice for employment."

Ms Keates insisted there is not widespread support for Mr Gove's plans.

"What he does quote is a handful of unrepresentative headteachers who base their style of management on The Apprentice, rather than on good management practice, and want to be able to walk into people's classrooms and say, 'You're fired'," she said.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "We do not need to make it easier to sack 'bad' teachers. Thoseteachers who discover this isn't the job for them leave the classroom long before it gets to this stage.

"What we do need if we are to raise performance, rather than grab headlines, is to improve continuing professional development and methods of supporting teachers.

"It's not just underperforming teachers who need to develop their skills and performance; there are some heads who could also benefit from improving their leadership and management skills."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the proposals were in the "best interests" of the profession.

"The simplest way to protect teachers is to be seen to be taking responsibility for our own performance. There is so much good practice out there that I think the profession has nothing to fear," he said.

"Clearer systems of performance management are one way to build up the professional reputation of teachers and get those outside the classroom to let the experts get on with the job."

The Department for Education (DfE) also announced today that it is also consulting on new proposals covering teacher recruitment, which would see schools passing on information, if requested, to future employers, on whether a teacher is, or has been, the subject of capability procedures.

The move would help to deal with the problem of poor teachers being "recycled" - moving from job to job, the DfE said.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "ASCL welcomes the clarity of the new teacher appraisal and capability model policy and we hope it will be adopted by governing bodies in maintained schools and academies across England."

He added: "Performance management is about enabling all teachers and school leaders, including the very best, to develop further and achieve the highest professional standards.

"It allows areas for improvement to be regularly identified and support to be provided to address them. It is not about sacking teachers.

"Capability procedures should be a last resort after all other support has been tried. However, where all support has been exhausted and capability procedures are deemed necessary, it is best for everyone that the process is concluded in a timely manner."

Mr Gove also suggested today that parents should be able to go into classrooms to observe lessons.

"If a parent says 'I would like to come along and watch when my children are being taught' then I think teachers should not be afraid and encourage that level of commitment," he told the Daily Mail.

But Ms Blower said it was not appropriate for "parents to think they can operate in the way that inspectors do".

She said there had to be a relationship between schools and parents, but added: "It does not mean that they should have the right of entrance to every classroom."