Help them, don't sack them: minister pledges support for failing teachers

19th June 2009 at 01:00
Newly installed Vernon Coaker rejects MPs' calls to make it easier to rid the profession of those who aren't up to the job

The new schools minister, Vernon Coaker, has already spoken out against any new measures that would make it easier to sack under- performing teachers.

The comments - which came less than a week after Mr Coaker was appointed to the Department for Children, Schools and Families - will delight unions. They also fly in the face of critics, including former Ofsted chief inspector Chris Woodhead, who argue that it is far too hard to sack failing school staff.

Speaking to the Commons Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families, which is carrying out an inquiry into teacher training, he said his aim was to help today's "high-quality" workforce to become even more skilled.

The former Nottingham deputy head stressed his intention to act as a champion for the profession as he made his first appearance in front of the group of MPs charged with examining the work of his department.

The committee is assessing whether radical changes to teacher training are needed, but those who have given evidence so far have said there is no need for a shake-up.

Mr Coaker said he wanted to keep the current system, but called for the virtues of teaching to be communicated more passionately.

Speaking with little prompting from DCSF officials, he rejected calls from committee members to make it easier to sack incompetent teachers - saying the current safeguards already work effectively.

The MPs said inadequate teachers were moved between schools rather than being removed from the profession. But Mr Coaker argued that organisations such as the General Teaching Council already dealt with those not up to the job.

"The most important thing is that we first support these teachers in school, as it's clear even those who are excellent have struggled in the first instance; and there is no need for them to leave the profession," Mr Coaker said.

"Nobody wants to see inadequate teachers moved from school to school."

Mr Coaker, who was parliamentary private secretary to Estelle Morris when she was secretary of state for education, was deputy head at Bigwood School in Nottingham and taught at three other schools in the area - Manvers Pierrepont, Arnold Hill and Bramcote Park. His wife is also a teacher, and his daughter is at teacher training college. He was warmly welcomed by the MPs, who said they hoped he would bring an "element of passion" to the job.

The training inquiry is examining whether current courses are successful and if there should be a registration scheme for teachers to make sure they complete regular training.

Mr Coaker said he would support any measures that would help those working in schools.

"We already have a high-quality workforce, and I want to know how to help them become even more skilled. I know continuing professional development is essential for the motivation of teachers and crucial to the development of schools," he said.

But Mr Coaker said the Every Child Matters agenda meant training needed to change, and promised this would be covered in the forthcoming schools white paper.

"We need to continue to attract the best graduates," he said.

"It shouldn't be about just teaching the subject - teachers must be able to motivate, inspire and excite."

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