A pilot scheme to hasten the sacking of incompetent teachers is due to be launched, because Education Secretary David Blunkett believes headteachers and governors are uncomfortable about triggering capability procedures.
Proposals for the scheme in one or more inner-city areas have taken the teacher unions and employers by surprise, and come less than a year after statutory guidance was issued.
The scheme gets a one-line mention in a Department for Education and Employment consultation document on the roles and responsibilities of governors. The TES understands that it could involve an independent agent acting with governors and heads on capability.
But the move is worrying teacher unions, already concerned about proposals to give headteachers greater responsibility for other personnel matters such as grievances and dismissals, and to reduce governor involvement.
Schools minister Jacqui Smith said that the details of the pilot scheme, in Excellence in Cities areas, have yet to be agreed.
The department's consultation document on governors says: "The Secetary of State recognises that heads and governing bodies feel uncomfortable about the triggering and application of capability procedures, and he is considering how help might be made available."
Statutory DFEE guidance on capability came into effect last September, and suggested procedures should take no longer than two terms, and as little as four weeks, in cases where teachers had lost control of classes.
Joe Boone, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' assistant secretary for pay and conditions, was unaware of the pilot scheme. He wants personnel functions returned to local education authorities which, for most teachers, are the employer.
Kay Jenkins, assistant secretary for legal services at the National Union of Teachers, added: "It's far too early to suggest doing anything further. The unions were opposed to the guidance, in any case."
A spokesman for NEOST, the employers' organisation, said it had been asked to monitor the impact of last summer's guidance. He agreed there was sometimes a reluctance to tackle incompetent teachers.