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Schools should create a 'culture of fear' to weed out poor teachers, claims head

Schools should cultivate a "culture of fear" to drive underperforming teachers out of the classroom, a headteacher has claimed.

Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, according to Steve Fairclough, head of Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire.

During a meeting of the Westminster Education Forum about performance-related pay, held in London this morning, he said that schools could consider linking pay to qualities such as honesty, integrity and courage.

Mr Fairclough, pictured, said: "Fear is good. Make them fear failure. Make them so scared that if they don't perform, or if they don't behave in a way that you want them to, you'll ask them to leave. We don't want poor performers in our schools, or those that behave badly, because they will detract from our school's reputation.

"Say this to any staff room and you'll see the nods all around. The back-row history teacher will guffaw under his breath and you'll gain approval from somebody else who has just come off Twitter for the first time in the meeting just to listen to how I'm going to expel the only cause of their professional stress. What they don't realise is it is them that I'm talking about."

Performance management is a way of "getting rid of bad teachers and keeping good ones in our great schools", he told delegates.

Mr Fairclough said that his school, a fee-paying boarding and day school, had introduced a new pay scheme around seven years ago, based around teacher behaviour rather than results.

The move was fuelled by the recession, falling pupil numbers at his school and increasing staff costs, he said.

"It's different to other models that we'll hear about because it's based more on teacher behaviour rather than results. And it's far more difficult to be objective."

He added: "People, when I talk about this form of performance management, consistently say 'how do I measure it?'. Some say that the only way to assess teachers is by academic results. In my early stages this was shot down because teachers are really good at arguing against this, objective results. But if we could find a way to value attitude and behaviour, even our most principled colleagues would find it difficult to put a case against a teacher being honest, a teacher being humble, courageous, showing integrity or respect."

Mr Fairclough said that a stumbling block is how to measure these qualities, and that he had "just had to go with what I knew to be true".

"I learnt very quickly that teachers were motivated by money," he told the Forum. "I had a simple plan, a business model for improving the business of education."

Mr Fairclough said his school had taken all teachers off their pay scales, had worked out how much they could afford to pay staff and then divided this money among them "based on subjective and also objective appraisal".

"The good teachers would get a pay rise and the bad teachers would get nothing. For example, if the average pay rise was 5 per cent, good teachers would get 10, providing I gave the poor teachers zero. Good and bad teachers soon get the message.

"To stop bad teachers, or almost all bad teachers, ruining the lives of children is my mission, is my passion. And it's hard to argue against, like any good theory.

"And make no mistake, under this system, poor teachers should be afraid, should be very afraid. Because for them, this model of performance management is a culture of fear which dominates their professional and personal lives."

Speaking after, Mr Fairclough said that, in practice, often if a teacher has not received a pay rise, they will leave.

"If people aren't rewarded as much as their colleagues they feel undervalued and may seek a job somewhere that they're a better fit. It doesn't mean necessarily that they are a bad teacher. Heads and schools have got to get a teacher whose attitude and behaviour is a good fit for their school.

"They may not be a good fit for me, but a fantastic fit somewhere else."

He said that his model was unlikely to work for all schools, and would need a "massive change in teachers' ideals".

"What's the most important thing, is it to be kind, to be helpful, to be honest, humble? I have an old-fashioned view, I believe teachers should be role models in their behaviour. It's an old-fashioned view.

"Some people will say no, all I've got to do is teach chemistry really well, here's your A stars and I can go and get drunk and behave how I want. So mine is such a, say, pious view of it, that I do expect people to behave in a manner in which they want the kids to behave."

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