Careers - Up to the job?

1st January 2010 at 00:00
Capability procedures don't have to result in you resigning or retiring. Confront criticisms immediately

Capability procedures - when you are placed into a formal performance management process - are intended to support struggling teachers. However, they can often be a humiliating and stressful experience. After all, there are few things more dispiriting than being told you are no good at your job, especially if you feel criticisms are unfounded.

"I'm very bitter about the whole thing," says one teacher, who has to stay anonymous due to a legal agreement. "I did have some discipline issues, but only with pupils who were also difficult in other classes. But once investigations started, all sorts of 'evidence' was dragged up, most of it nonsense."

"The process was a disgrace. Meetings were not minuted, targets were unclear and I wasn't given any professional development. The only support consisted of meetings where I was shouted at and criticised, and in the end I became very unwell. Once capability procedures begin, it is a downward spiral."

The teacher in question says she had no choice but to resign from her post, and fears her career may be over. Sadly, her experience isn't untypical. Research shows that more than half of all teachers who enter capability procedures end up resigning or retiring. Only one in eight is judged to have improved as a teacher at the end of the process. With this in mind, the best strategy is to confront criticisms at the earliest possible stage, before official proceedings begin.

As soon as doubts are raised, be prepared to defend yourself. Gather evidence of your competency: references from previous employers, or positive performance management reviews from past years. Do some number crunching to find out how your value-added results stack up against the school average.

If you accept that criticisms are valid, then use initiative by suggesting ways forward, such as training or observing colleagues. Discuss ways in which the school could make better use of your strengths. Alternatively, the root of the problem might be stress, ill-health or lack of confidence. If so, be honest about your difficulties and discuss the possibility of professional help.

If your school still insists on capability procedures, it is vital that you familiarise yourself with local authority guidelines. Most authorities draw a distinction between informal and formal capability procedures - but don't be fooled. Being placed on informal procedure is still a serious matter, and it is best to contact your union quickly.

Whether formal or informal, you should receive a written document detailing the school's concerns. This is followed by a meeting at which targets are set and support strategies discussed. At this point, be careful not to agree to unrealistic targets. Finally, after a period of regular lesson observations, typically six months, your progress is reviewed. If you are judged to have improved you may be taken off procedure. If not, you could be given the first of three warnings needed for a dismissal.

But dismissals are rare. If a situation seems unlikely to be resolved, it is more usual to reach a compromise where the teacher offers their resignation in return for an agreed reference, negotiated by the union. That reference is vital.

It is uncommon for teachers to be struck off the General Teaching Council for England register for incompetency, for the simple reason that not many teachers are incompetent. So if you can get an acceptable reference, and keep your motivation intact, you should be able to resume your career at another school, or through supply.

What you should do next

- Read procedure guidelines carefully.

- Involve your union at the earliest opportunity.

- Visit http:teacherscompetencynetwork., which offers more information.

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