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Editor's comment

Can I Sack Teacher?, this week's BBC Panorama programme on incompetent teachers (p3), must rank as one of the most misleading and threadbare documentaries ever made. Yet, even though it is easy to ridicule, it matters.

Can I Sack Teacher?, this week's BBC Panorama programme on incompetent teachers (p3), must rank as one of the most misleading and threadbare documentaries ever made. Yet, even though it is easy to ridicule, it matters.

It matters because there are real questions over capability and incompetence that can easily be dismissed in a silly programme - and should not be. It matters also because some Panorama viewers would have gone to bed on Monday believing that children were failing because teachers cared more about their own than they did about their pupils.

It would take skin as thick as a rhino and scant regard for one's own mental health to hang around in teaching when you were not just bad, but incompetent. Even if a teacher slipped by school managers, pupils are unlikely to hide their contempt for a teacher who has not earned their respect. Teachers themselves are among the fiercest critics of incompetent colleagues who make their lives difficult and let their pupils down.

The programme clearly had an agenda, based on the hoary old guesstimate by Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools in England, that there were 15,000 incompetent teachers in the UK, "ruining lives", as Panorama even-handedly put it. When the programme-makers attempted to get evidence, surveying 3,000 headteachers in England and receiving fewer than 40 replies, they were only too ready to believe that this represented a "conspiracy of silence protecting poor teachers". The case of the Scottish parents appalled by the sub-standard supply teacher in their child's school hardly constitutes compelling proof.

This was an alarmist programme which purported to deal with what is undoubtedly a real issue, but descended into tendentious assertions from "evidence" largely provided by Chris Woodhead and a handful of parents. It was not the BBC's finest hour.

Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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