"As managers of people, we should inhabit the moral high ground and not be called to book by shoddy practices or menacing behaviour towards staff. "
That was the plea from Neil Logue, head of human resources in Angus's education department. "Managing staff and addressing problems with staff performance must be done in a supportive and developmental way and should not be based on sanctions or punishment," Mr Logue said.
Mr Logue slammed the "name-shame" approach south of the border where the Government has publicly identified 18 "failing" schools. "It is puzzling and not particularly helpful," he said. Such an approach ran counter to the best practice in dealing with deficiencies in individual teachers which was to be supportive during the initial stages.
Any complaints from parents or pupils about staff performance should be met by "immediate and effective action" rather than "a gentle word", Mr Logue said. It should not be regarded as "a cold that will eventually go away because it could raise issues about the way learning and teaching is monitored or about whether homework policy is being implemented. It is about being proactive and pre-emptive so you can head parents off at the pass."
Mr Logue said senior management should consider how well they know the work of their staff. If there are teachers whose work is causing "significant concerns", do the staff in question know that? What support is being offered? If deficiencies persist, when should the directorate be brought in?
Informal meetings with such teachers should be the starting point, Mr Logue suggested. If that does not resolve matters, a more formal approach is required in which "achievable and realistic" targets are set and agreed, support is provided and the outcome assessed.
The process should involve the unions and be fully documented. Disciplinary action, including formal warnings and dismissal, should only be the last resort.
Bob McCarrison, the Headteachers' Association of Scotland's field officer, underlined the importance of record-keeping to head off any possible allegations against senior staff. "I have to tell you there are a lot of people in your schools keeping diaries on when you last shouted at them or gave them a terrible 'please take'," Mr McCarrison said. "So it is time you woke up to the fact that your diary could be your salvation."
Mr McCarrison said this was particularly important as charges of harassment were increasingly made by staff to sidestep impending disciplinary action. Informal meetings to discuss ineffective teaching carried the danger that they could be misconstrued. "Time then becomes a very important issue," he said. "At what point do you move from being the caring, supportive head or depute into more formal settings?" Mr McCarrison stressed the value of having written school policies in dealing with staff performance "so that it is clear whether there were steps the teacher could have taken but did not".