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Removal men must work fairly

As we disclosed last week, there is to be action from the top on sacking teachers who are not up to the job - but only after they have been placed on probation and given every support and opportunity to improve. If they do not, it will be up to the teachers' professional body, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, to remove them from the register - or not. The surprise is that it has not happened before.

This has been talked about for decades but councils have been slow to act, perhaps because definitions of competence have proved too difficult or did not even exist in the past before the Standard for Full Registration was adopted. Most teachers long past their sell-by date have been quietly pushed out of the classroom door with some retirement or medical package.

But what about those who are not of the age for retirement? Even freshly-qualified teachers may not be up to it, despite the new probation arrangements. Others may be locked in a career and lose interest with no way out.

Pupils, parents and fellow teachers know who they are, and many of the discipline referrals are an indicator of personal problems in the classroom. In primary, some teachers are channelled into the middle years where they can do less damage. In secondary, they can be left with a less challenging curriculum. It is also true in both sectors that, when teacher shortage is critical in some geographical areas and in some subjects, it is less likely that teachers will be booted out. If they have a pulse, it's sufficient.

That said, the pressures on teachers are greater than ever, with their performance measured in detail against pupils' performance. So the removal men must make sure there is fairness, consistency and transparency in the system. Why should unsatisfactory heads, education directors and even the failed bosses of Scottish Power get "packages," for example, while teachers do not? This latest manifestation of "support and challenge" needs its own performance indicator.

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