Teacher with an attitude problem

Pat McDermott

Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions

A senior department member doesn't care about her results and has poor expectations, particularly of boys. She believes performance-related pay is a right and thinks that the minimum is good enough although she has a senior position.

The black children tend to be working class, the white middle class; she sees this as a race issue and does not adjust for the different needs of these pupils. She is oblivious to these problems and when gently challenged she cries and reduces her commitment.

With a well-behaved female class she can teach adequately to GCSE but has insufficient interest in the subject to teach A-level. She has patchily met some targets if they require little effort but will not instigate changes herself. She is unlikely to move on in the next 15 years as her pension is very important to her.

Support and encouragement have dramatically improved her teaching over the past two years but no further progress seems possible. I don't think she actually likes the children. What should I do?

Assisting a colleague who has this attitude is one of the most difficult situations a head has to deal with. Balancing the needs of the individual against the needs of those in her care is a sensitive and fraught position to find oneself in as a head.

It sounds as though you have worked hard with this teacher and you say there has been a dramatic improvement in her teaching. Is it worth reflecting with her on how this has come about? Can the level of support that you have provided be sustained?

I am sure that you will have kept a log of all this support and your meetings with her as this may become important information later if you have to move from informal to formal procedures.

You seem to think that no further progress can be made with the softly-softly approach so you need to consider a more challenging approach.

One of the challenges is to shift this teacher's attitudes and energies from merely paying lip-service to teaching and targets to active and effective differentiation based on the core values of the school. You mention performance management. Is there an opportunity in your policy and procedures to address areas for improvement through use of performance targets? If not, then perhaps at least some targets need to be set outside the performance management cycle for her own professional development.

These need to be challenging based on your concerns in relation to groups of pupils that she teaches, and measurable so that her progress can be reviewed objectively. Make sure you support her to hit targets.

Also she needs to be exposed either personally or, even better as part of a whole staff review, to the values that underpin your learning policies.

This will provide you with an opportunity to reinforce points such as "high expectations for all pupils" and "learning objectives need to be pupil specific dependent on needs and ability". These must be translated into practice.

So far you have tried to rescue her as a teacher but as a middle manager she is employed to take the lead on such issues with other staff. It will not be enough for her merely to deliver what you expect of others, she has other responsibilities too. If after an appropriate period she still makes little progress after being challenged and supported, you should consider moving into formal competency procedures. Get out the rule books and make sure she understand this is a significant shift in the relationship.

It's much better for all concerned to try to resolve these matters informally but when it becomes a matter of continuing to support the individual at the expense of others, your duty is to protect pupils and colleagues. If she does not improve then you have no choice but to begin formal proceedings.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. He has been a head for 12 years and teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years.Do you have a leadership question?Email susan.young@tes.co.uk

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Pat McDermott

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