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Facing up to the problem of teachers in trouble

Keeping a detailed record is vital," says one headteacher. The visit from an irate parent, the complaint from the principal teacher can be essential in the campaign to overcome the problem.

The next step is for the head to meet informally with the member of staff and to offer support. It may be the offer of short-term support in the classroom, or advice on disciplinary tactics, or an in-service session on the course-work itself. Support is offered on the understanding that failure to improve will prompt disciplinary action.

A programme of support may be all it takes to iron out the difficulty, but in the case of a deeper-seated problem, this period can drag on. Headteachers can offer advice and support and set short-term targets until they are blue in the face, meanwhile everyone is aware that nothing is improving or likely to improve.

In those cases, the headteacher is well advised to seek an external view. An adviser from the local authority could be brought in to observe classes. Someone not directly involved with the problem may be able to offer useful suggestions. But if there is still no change, the head has little choice but to move on to a final warning.

At this point, the member of staff is fairly likely to go off sick. "Health is often used as a get-out," says one head. The teacher may remain off work indefinitely. "If a teacher is facing a disciplinary hearing and goes off sick, and I then follow the absence regulations through, I could open myself to accusations of victimisation."

Dealing with staff problems of this type is doubtless stressful for the headteacher. "You have to be secure in yourself. It is no fun being taken to an appeal hearing. Headteachers face enormous pressure. The will may be there to do something about a staff problem, but the workload may keep it at the bottom of the pile."

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