How to sack bad teachers and improve standards - by heads' union leader

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The Independent Online
Failing teachers should be sacked if their pupils do not achieve expected test and examination results, a headteachers' leader said yesterday.

Measuring teachers' performance against results targets would be one way of speeding up time-consuming procedures for dismissing staff who are not up to the job, according to David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

His suggestions - which echo a proposal made by the Conservative government - will be welcomed by parents concerned that their children's education is suffering because of inadequate teaching. At present, a complex seven- stage dismissal process can mean schools take as long as two years to get rid of poor staff.

Mr Hart's call came as Labour ministers called on teachers' unions and school employers for help in developing a "firm but fair" fast-track approach for dealing with failing teachers.

Stephen Byers, the minister for school standards, said the Government was not prepared to join a "conspiracy of silence" to protect inadequate staff.

"There is a minority of teachers who are not doing a good job and their failure is damaging the educational opportunities of our children ... These are children who don't get a second chance," he said.

A means of removing bad teachers quickly is essential if Labour is to succeed in its crusade to raise standards - where necessary by closing down poor schools and re-opening them with a new head and some new staff members.

Speaking on the second day of the NAHT's annual conference in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, Mr Hart said headteachers were as frustrated as parents and governors at the time being taken to sack incompetent staff. Schools were already under pressure following the introduction of league tables, assessments and budgets based on pupil recruitment, making it "very risky for any head to tolerate a failing teacher in their school".

But heads are being hampered by "convoluted" procedures involving an informal, oral, written and final warning to poor staff, followed by two dismissal hearings and an appeal before governors. In some cases, local authorities prolonged the process through fear of expensive legal action if procedures are not followed to the letter.

One means of accelerating the process would involve linking dismissal procedures with the Government's plans for achievement targets for schools, departments and individual teachers, Mr Hart predicted. For staff, the indicators are likely to include pupils' exam and test results.

Heads would welcome any evidence which could be produced in support of steps they have to take to deal with the small minority of teachers who were not up to the job, he added.

Teachers may also be made to undergo compulsory appraisal as part of government plans to weed out incompetents. Where necessary, the findings could be used to contribute to competency procedures.

Calls by heads for sacking by results provoked strong opposition from the leader of the largest teaching union.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This is a surprising U-turn. Mr Hart has always been opposed to judging schools by their results. Judgment by results is a Victorian concept which has no place in today's education system."

He blamed "weak and inadequate management" on the part of heads and governing bodies in refusing to use existing procedures to deal with incompetence, and challenged Mr Byers to analyse the problem before "rushing for a fast- track solution".

Heads should work to prevent a teacher's performance deteriorating to the level of incompetence, he said.