Fix the leaks before you bail the boat

14th July 2006 at 01:00
found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with the Education Minister, when I read the lead story on incompetent teachers in this newspaper on June 16 ("Time to shape up, or get out"). For too long, teachers have blocked any attempts to sort out the failures among us as yet another conspiracy against a downtrodden profession.

Perspectives have somewhat shifted. Staff review and development in many schools have softened our endemic paranoia. Most of us accept that our jobs should not be any more protected than anyone else's. Yet some teachers do the bare minimum and even do that badly.

True, these offenders may bleat on about their hard lives in the classroom, causing the rest of us barely disguised bafflement as they arrive late, depart early and are never to be seen carrying as much as one sheet of paper in or out of the building. Not, of course, that I'm suggesting that long hours necessarily equate with productive output.

How then will we recognise Peter Peacock's incompetent teachers? With difficulty it would seem as, in recent years, only nine of Scotland's 52,000 teachers have been dismissed because of incompetence. I turned for guidance to the General Teaching Council for Scotland's code of practice on competence, published in September 2002. The aims are laudable. No one would quibble with the desire to maintain and enhance the quality of teaching and the target to maintain standards. There's a plethora of statements under the headings of professional knowledge and understanding, professional skills and abilities and professional values and personal commitment.

Professional then is the buzz-word. Pity then that not everyone engaged with judging teacher competence has been informed of this. Initial teacher education establishments must take their responsibilities much more seriously. There are huge variations in standards of teaching, learning and assessing across the various institutions. What disturbs me hugely is that some incompetent student teachers are passing. This is obviously preposterous, so why is it being allowed to happen?

Several months ago, when I criticised teacher educators because of their lack of recent classroom experience, some individuals reacted quite aggressively. Such defensiveness indicated to me the extent to which we don't yet have undiluted professionalism in ITE. Maybe the institutions can tell me why schools sometimes fail individuals on teaching practice, and yet colleges often pass them. I know one principal teacher who was stunned to discover that a totally incompetent student had been passed by the college before the school had sent the final report (a fail) to the college.

The GTC also needs to take a hike out of its ivory tower and adopt a much more radical approach in working with teacher education providers.

Incompetent student teachers simply should not be allowed to enter the profession in the first place. The fact that some are doing so is ridiculous. Why are we witnessing such lack of responsibility? Political pressure? The need to keep the statistics looking good? Who knows? What we do know is that there are people entering the profession who should be pursuing other careers.

What about schools? Are their noses clean? Sadly, not always. I was reliably told of a newly qualified teacher who, apparently, was observed only once during the NQT year. Local authorities, too, should be getting off their backsides and becoming much more proactive.

The people who suffer in all of this are the pupils. It is for this reason that I feel totally comfortable launching a major offensive against anyone who passes a teacher as competent when they know fine they would not wish their own child to be taught by such an individual. But, hey ho, as quickly as Mr Peacock wants to sack the incompetents already in the profession, the system is firing them in at the other end. Outrageous, isn't it?

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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