US teaches heads how to sack staff

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Government attempts to speed up the dismissal of incompetent teachers may founder on heads' reluctance to confront them, according to US research.

Professor Ted Wragg, of Exeter University, pointed yesterday to studies which show heads try to persuade teachers to leave, move them to non- classroom duties, or pay for special counselling or retraining.

The reluctance to dismiss people is not confined to the teaching profession. Other American studies suggest that managers in industry would rather transfer employees than sack them. Another survey of malpractice in the medical profession found it was almost impossible to persuade doctors to testify against each other. A different group of researchers found this was true of lawyers.

Professor Wragg has just received pounds 139,157 from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation to carry out the first major British study of incompetent teachers. He will investigate the grounds by which teachers are judged incompetent and how schools deal with them. The US research suggests dismissing teachers is time-consuming and expensive, costing as much as pounds 100,000 in legal fees.

Professor Wragg said last night: "The American research shows that even if you have legislation dismissing incompetent teachers, is not a simple business. If the rule is that you are dismissed after two unsatisfactory ratings then heads are reluctant to give the second."

The most common grounds used to dismiss teachers in 141 California school are superviser ratings, complaints from pupils, complaints from other teachers and pupils' test scores.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, has asked employers and teacher unions how the dismissal procedures for teachers can be cut to six months.