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Directors cite 'cultural obstacle' to sackings

The obstacles against removing incompetent teachers from the profession are as + much cultural as procedural, according to West Dunbartonshire's director of + education.Ian McMurdo said: "Teacher dismissal on the grounds of incompetence, + while widely discussed and perhaps subscribed to in principle for many years, + represents a major change in the culture of Scottish education and is likely to+ be resisted, particularly by the teachers' unions."The Educational Institute + of Scotland has told local negotiators not to enter into talks on changes to + disciplinary procedures until further notice. This is because of the + "millennium review" of the education service which is being conducted jointly + by unions and councils and whose first session was due to be held this + week.West Dunbartonshire was responding to the Scottish Office consultation on + the subject. The suggestion, which is shared by many in the directorate, that + councils have an inbuilt resistance to dismissing incompetent teachers implies + that legislative changes demanded by management to make dismissal easier may + prove insufficient.Keir Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan, said: + "While they were undoubtedly deterred by the procedures, the reluctance on the + part of the directors to initiate a motion for dismissal also indicates a + culture in which involuntary removal of a teacher was seen as a wholly + exceptional action. In my view this cultural obstacle has always been greater + than any procedural one. "Councils admit that dismissal on the grounds of + incompetence rarely happens. The decision by Clackmannan to retire a primary + head who lost the confidence of parents and staff (TES2, pages 3-4), may signal+ a more hard-headed approach.The General Teaching Council wants new powers to + dismiss incompetent teachers as part of a staff development package, but is + bitterly disappointed that the Education Minister does not appear to have been + persuaded.Mr McMurdo warned: "If mishandled in any way, an initiative designed + to resolve the problems caused by a few could result in an already stressed + profession feeling threatened and vulnerable, and the relationship of trust + between Scottish teachers and those who manage them could be put at + risk."Incompetence was not clear cut and was more open to challenge than + immorality or dishonesty, Mr McMurdo said. There was also "a significant + welfare issue". He suggested that dismissal should only be considered where + teachers seriously underperformed in "a range" of categories. Some of his + colleagues believe, however, that major defects in one area should be + sufficient.Mr McMurdo said the test in deciding whether a teacher should be + dismissed ought to be the legal concept of reasonableness. "The decision should+ be taken on the grounds that the member of staff has been given considerable + support and opportunity for improvement and that it is no longer reasonable to + continue to allow the performance of an individual teacher to damage the + education of young people. "

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