Teachers sacked for incompetence remain in schools

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Hundreds of teachers who have been sacked for incompetence are being allowed to carry on teaching in other schools because their former employers are failing to report them to the authorities.

The General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), a professional body for qualified teachers, said that local education authorities (LEA) were breaking the law by failing to inform the organisation about staff who had been sacked or had resigned to avoid dismissal because of concerns about their competence. Under the GTCE's procedures, these teachers could be liable for a tribunal hearing which could lead to their being struck off the profession's register.

Although the GTCE believes that only a "tiny minority" of teachers are not up to the required standard, the body is concerned that the number of staff reported for incompetence by LEAs is suspiciously low.

While 55 of England's 150 local authorities have reported teachers to the GTCE for misconduct, only 15 have admitted they had incompetent staff. Of the 552 teachers referred to the GTCE, there were concerns about the competence of just 33. In only 19 of these cases was there enough evidence to warrant a GTCE investigation and of those only 11 have been judged to require a full hearing. Ten of these cases have been concluded, with seven resulting in a guilty verdict.

In 1995, Chris Woodhead, then chief inspector of schools, said that there were 15,000 incompetent teachers working in English schools who should be sacked. His claims were dismissed by many educationalists but in a speech last year, David Miliband, the School Standards minister, said that pupils' education was being damaged by too many incompetent teachers.

Margaret Morgan, chair of the GTCE's professional standards committee and a teacher in Devon, said the committee suspected something was wrong after being presented with the statistics for the first years of the council's work.

She said: "I raised the question of whether local authorities were complying with their legal duties to refer cases of incompetence to us." She said that she feared the downsizing of many local authorities could have left some without enough staff to monitor competence cases correctly.

Carol Adams, the GTCE's chief executive, said that the council had been surprised at the low number of competence cases. She said she had written to England's 150 LEAs to remind them of their legal obligation to notify the GTCE of any teachers sacked for incompetence, or who had left to avoid dismissal. She said: "We are not expecting an avalanche of referrals. I think that people should do everything they can to support their teachers [but] they must also be very clear that there is a legal requirement for them to refer that teacher to the GTCE." The GTCE has a range of powers to discipline teachers, including banning them for life. The only teacher to receive a lifetime ban bludgeoned his wife to death because she was having an affair with a man at the school where all three taught.