HEADS and teachers who are not up to the job will be helped to "leave their posts with dignity" as the Government declares zero tolerance on poor teaching.
Within the next 12 weeks the Department for Education and Skills will produce plain-speaking guidance on capability procedures aimed at rooting out underperforming staff.
Schools standards minister David Miliband this week delivered a hard-hitting speech aimed at cracking down on poor teaching, a week before the chief inspector delivers his annual report on the state of the nation's schools.
He said the difference between teachers was roughly equivalent to an additional year's education for the pupils with the best and those with the worst.
"It is neither in pupils' interests nor in the longer term interests of staff that they struggle on for long stretches of time, failing to meet their responsibilities," he said.
"Our aim must be to ensure that underperformance is tackled sensitively but rigorously, and that heads or other staff who cannot meet the required standards leave their posts with dignity."
Capability procedures were introduced by Stephen Byers, then schools minister, in 1997 after Chris Woodhead, the then chief inspector, said there were 15,000 incompetent teachers.
Government-commissioned research published last year shows that heads are reluctant to use the controversial measure - and that they were unlikely to improve teachers' performance.
The study, involving 520 heads, all English education authorities and the six major teaching unions, found there were concerns about 1.2 per cent of teachers. Two-thirds related to teaching, the rest to a managerial role, absence or unprofessional behaviour, according to the school of management at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.
If extrapolated across England, this would equate to 5,052 incompetent teachers out of the 421,000 in service at the time.
Latest figures show that 29 out of 3,000 teachers were dismissed, but not all by the fast-track procedure.
Mr Miliband gave no indication of the number of staff he thought should be eased out.
And David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I am surprised that we should still be talking about getting rid of poor teachers. I wonder what the Department for Education and Skills thinks heads have been doing for the past five years. They have been getting rid of poor teachers."
Mr Miliband believes that only one in six schools has a properly embedded system of performance management with annual appraisals that drive school improvement.
He told the 12th British performance management conference in Bournemouth this week that the record for teacher appraisal was "patchy", while that for heads was "mixed".
A report by the Office for Standards in Education in November (2002) revealed that teachers and heads often set pointlessly vague performance targets, or no targets at all, because they were afraid of missing out on pay increases.
Mr Miliband criticised governors for not injecting the "necessary vigour and challenge" to headteacher appraisal and he now proposes drafting in heads from other areas to do the job.
Some schools provided strong examples of effective target-setting, but Mr Miliband said: "Overall the evidence is that there is not enough challenge, either in objectives or the review process.
"Most schools need to make significant progress in setting rigorous and stretching objectives and targets for teachers which bear directly on improved standards ... and which demand more from experienced teachers."
Already 1,400 secondary schools in England have been given leadership incentive grants, worth pound;375,000 over three years - cash which could trigger the dismissal of bad headteachers.
Guidance sent to councils suggest they should consider withholding the grant from schools identified as "causing concern" in an effort to replace ineffective heads or encourage schools to form federations.