Failing teachers could be sacked in a month

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The Independent Online
Grossly incompetent teachers could be sacked within a month under new fast-track procedures put forward by education authorities. The change would mean a dramatic telescoping of the dismissal process, which at present can drag on in schools for up to two years.

Meanwhile, teachers who are failing less drastically could be removed within two terms if they did not improve, authority leaders say. Local education authorities, who employ teachers, put forward the recommendations in response to a government consultation on developing a "firm but fair" approach to speedier dismissal.

Ministers believe the present seven-stage competency process, which can include four warnings, two dismissal hearings and an appeal before governors, hampers attempts by head teachers to raise standards.

Though they insist they do not want to see mass sackings of failing teachers, they believe those not up to the job who cannot or will not improve through support and training should be swiftly removed.

The LEAs, who met the schools standards minister, Stephen Byers, on Wednesday to set out their response to the consultation, are understood to have surprised ministers and civil servants with their tough line.

Graham Lane, education chair of the authorities' representative body the Local Government Association (LGA), said LEAs were beginning to "harden their view" on gross incompetence. Schools should be able to cut out warnings and move straight to the final stages of the competency process within a month, he said.

Incompetent teachers, meanwhile, would receive up to two warnings each followed by six weeks to improve, before a move to dismissal procedures.

The proposal comes less than a month after David Hart, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said teachers should be judged against achievement targets, including test and exam results, in the drive to weed out failing staff.

The LGA wants the Government to issue national guidelines on the issue, which LEAs would adopt, possibly in a modified form. Schools should be obliged to sign up to their authority's competency agreements, according to the association.

The proposals for fast-track sackings angered the National Union of Teachers, which insisted head teachers should never allow a teacher to slip into gross incompetence. Doug McAvoy, its general secretary, said: "The country invests a great deal in the training of teachers and should not have that investment wasted through problems not being addressed early enough."

The Government is to follow up its consultation with a second on ways to accelerate dismissal of incompetent head teachers. Among options under consideration is the introduction of fixed-term contracts for heads, which has already met fierce opposition from head teachers' leaders.

The LGA, which is seeking to claw back influence in the hiring and firing of heads from school governors, proposes an alternative scheme under which staff moving into management positions in schools would work for a period "on trial" before being given a permanent post if they proved competent.

A crisis in recruiting head teachers which threatens the drive for higher standards in schools will spiral unless the Government breaks public spending limits and boosts heads' pay, a teachers' leader warned yesterday.

In a letter to David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers said more and more teachers believed salary increases through promotion to headship were "not worth the candle".