TEACHERS could go from formal warning to being sacked in just four weeks if pupils have "failed to progress" under their care, under new government proposals.
In draft guidelines, out for consultation, the Department for Education and Employment says heads can resort to the rarely used fast-track dismissals process where pupils are not making progress. Current guidance says the fast-track procedure should only be used in extreme cases where the education of pupils is seriously jeopardised.
The new guidance comes in response to two surveys which uncovered a "number of persistent weaknesses" in the way schools handle "capability" cases of teachers whose performance is unacceptable.
Teacher unions have raised fears that heads could use evidence from performance-management systems or threshold applications as grounds for fast-track dismissal. General secretary of the National Union of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Nigel de Gruchy said: "Fast track is used in a tiny minority of cases. The Government seems intent on widening its use. The criteria can surely apply to any capability case.
"If the fast-track dismissal procedure includes pupil progress and evidence is taken from the school's performance-management system or from a threshold application, then this will wreck faith in both systems."
The Secondary Heads Association said the new guidlines could prove unworkable because it would be difficult to prove failure to progress within the short time scale to thesatisfaction of an employment tribunal
The National Employers Organisation for School Teachers survey last year completed by 116 out of 171 local education authorities, found just over 3,000 teachers had faced some form of capability procedure. A total of 604 teachers were sacked, retired or resigned. But only 29 faced the fast track system.
Mike Walker, of NEOST, said the draft was necessary because some heads were ignoring previous guidance and not employing fast-track at all. A DFEE study of 200 schools found none of the 33 teachers facing incapability procedures were fast-tracked.
A department spokesman said: "The measure of whether a teacher is having no beneficial impact on the children in the class will be a professional judgement by the headteacher based on complaints from parents, colleagues and the head teacher's own observations, existing appraisals or OFSTED."
Fast-track reduces the period within which a teacher has to show improvement or face dismissal from the usual two terms to four weeks.
The formal warning that starts this process only comes after an informal stage where under-performing teachers are approached, interviewed and can get counselling or training.
The orginal terms for using fast-track were agreed by former schools minister Stephen Byers and unions in 1997, following a claim by chief inspector Chris Woodhead that 15,000 teachers were incompetent.
Mr de Gruchy claimed that extending the use of the fast-track procedure was aimed at providing more work for the new General Teaching Council, which is likely to examine the most serious cases of incompetence.