Lemon aid

Dealing with the bottom 10 per cent of the worst-performing teachers would improve our schools immeasurably, argues the Sutton Trust. But is it that simple?

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Last week, hundreds of thousands of men and women - some young, some old - took a deep breath (some perhaps even let out a quiet sigh) and stepped in front of class to begin another school year. For some, it will be their first time alone with a whiteboard and children; for others, that terrifying classroom debut will be just a distant memory. But whether these teachers have been doing their job for two minutes or 20 years, one in six is performing poorly.

At least that is the claim according to research on teacher quality published today by the Sutton Trust, which campaigns to improve social mobility through education.

The study suggests that some 64,000 teachers working in England's schools are not performing as well as they should. If the figures are correct, you may be sitting next to one of them in the staffroom as you read this. Three or four low-performers you have encountered during your career may immediately spring to mind. One of them may even be you.

To put the Sutton Trust figure in context, consider the scale of the controversy caused by former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead when he claimed there were 15,000 underperforming teachers.

According to the Sutton Trust report, replacing or improving just the lowest 10 per cent of those working at the chalkface - roughly 40,000 - to bring them up to the UK average, would have a truly seismic impact on England's schools and their pupils. The trust's research claims that - all other factors remaining the same - tackling the bottom tenth of teachers would see the UK's position in international league tables rocket in just 10 years from 21st and 22nd, in reading and maths respectively, to as high as third and fifth.

You can read the full article in the 16 September 2011 issue of TES.

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