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Probe identifies 1,000 staff at risk of failing

Neil Munro reports on the growing tensions over professional incompetence and what to do about it.

THERE may be between 500 and 1,000 teachers whose teaching or conduct gives cause for concern, according to evidence collected by HMI. At any given time this represents 1 to 2 per cent of the workforce but the Inspectorate's investigation found no accurate figures.

In 17 education authorities, the number of teachers actually dismissed over three years was four, all due to their conduct not their abilities as teachers.

The number was said to be "only a small fraction of the teachers whose behaviour or performance gave cause for concern to local authorities".

A council survey conducted by HMI revealed that a further 246 teachers left before they were dismissed in the same 17 authorities over the three years.

HMI's inquiries into the ways in which disciplinary procedures worked were ordered by previous ministers following publication of the Targeting Excellence White Paper last January.

But headteachers and education officials have convinced inspectors that it is easier to deal with conduct than capability issues because of the absence of agreed national standards for defining teaching capability.

Cases involving incompetence are also "more troublesome, complex and time-consuming", HMI's report on Meeting Professional Standards states.

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, announced to secondary heads at their annual conference last month that he was setting up a working group composed of the General Teaching Council, the authorities and the unions to come up with agreed guidelines on discipline which would deal with both conduct and competence.

The group will be chaired by Acas, the conciliation service.

The Educational Institute of Scotland reacted immediately by denouncing the Government's move and said it would reserve its position on whether to take part in the Acas working group. The union said the GTC was best placed to examine the professionalism of teachers and their competence to teach.

Ministers also plan to give directors of education the power to dismiss teachers rather than the education committee as at present, with the safeguard of a right of appeal to a committee of councillors, as reported in The TES Scotland two weeks ago.

An industrial tribunal ruled recently that such an attempt under existing law involved a breach of a teacher's contract of employment.

A rare example of the present procedures at work emerged last week when councillors on Glasgow education committee threw out proposals from education officials to sack a primary teacher, who was defended by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.

The EIS agreed it was "in the interests of no one that the tiny minority of teachers who can no longer meet the exacting standards which are expected of the profession today remain in the profession" but demanded that "a fair route" must be provided for those wishing to leave.

The union added that handing new powers to directors of education will give them too much power. Ronnie Smith, its general secretary, said: "It will be very difficult to resist pressure from headteachers who may have all sorts of reasons for wanting a teacher to be dismissed.

"There is likely to be far less consideration for a teacher who, because of personal circumstances, family bereavement or illness is subject to particular but often short-term stress and circumstances which can mean that he or she is not at his or her highest level of professionalism."

HMI found that fewer than

1 per cent of lessons inspected in 1998-99 were rated unsatisfactory but a further 13 per cent had important weaknesses.

"These figures cannot be translated into any particular number of teachers who give cause for concern but they should remove any sense of complacency as they point to an important capability problem," the report states.

It adds: "Capability problems are not confined only to class teachers. In 1998-99, the effectiveness of headteachers' leadership in just over a sixth of the schools inspected was found to have some important weaknesses."

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