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Point to paranoia;Leading Article;Opinion

The wry saying: "Just because you are paranoid, it doesn't mean they aren't out to get you" could justifiably be posted in every school staffroom. The TES database reveals that the phrase "incompetent teachers" has appeared in no fewer than 373 national newspaper articles since 1994. Yet there have only been 59 mentions of incompetent doctors; and the skills of lawyers (nine references) and nurses (two) are rarely questioned.

Ted Wragg's research findings on teacher competence put the problem into a more realistic perspective. His study shows that whatever the mass media may like to suggest, failing teachers are nearly always identified within the school itself - by a colleague, headteacher or even a pupil - rather than by an inspector. Furthermore, although incompetent teachers come in all shapes, sizes and ages, they are often older teachers suffering from the vicissitudes of middle age such as divorce or ill health.

Hearteningly, a minority can improve their performance and continue their career, provided they are well-managed and given the right support. Advocates of ultra-fast-track dismissal ought to bear this in mind. Of course children's welfare must come first. But most struggling teachers also deserve considerate treatment.

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