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In the Middle - When to intervene? It's a hard call

One of the hardest things for school leaders to recognise is the right time to intervene when a colleague appears to be in difficulty. There are a number of signals that can begin our concerns. One could be walking past a classroom and hearing what seems to be a chaotic din. You could receive deputations from pupils asking to move groups. Often hardest to ignore are times when parents complain or, more worryingly, when teachers and teaching assistants begin to comment.

So when is the correct time to intervene? It has been fascinating to watch the Government's reactions to the financial sector's problems when it has been faced with the same question. When Northern Rock got into difficulties, the Government took its time before acting and was later castigated for its delay by commentators. In contrast, it responded quickly to the travails of Bradford and Bingley.

Once we intervene, it can feel as though to stop the action would be like turning an oil tanker around. The teacher's confidence can be knocked and the matter can be made worse. Just as the Government was concerned that intervention could cause a snowball effect in the financial markets, if pupils and parents sense there is an issue with a teacher's performance, complaints can flood in and children's behaviour can worsen.

However, we do have a duty to act. Maybe the answer is that whatever is done, it has to be done decisively and without leaving doubt in anyone's mind. That is the best way of averting a loss of confidence.

Hopefully, the same will be true for the financial sector.

Paul Ainsworth, Deputy head, Belvoir High in Bottesford, Nottinghamshire.

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