Cyril Taylor says weak management rather than poor teaching is major cause of low attainment.Headlines cried out this week with bad news for teachers: the Government's longest-standing education adviser wanted to get rid of 17,000 of them. Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, was reported to have said that the weakest teachers should be sacked.
The news was greeted with dismay by teachers, who accused Sir Cyril of trying to outdo Chris Woodhead, who, when he was chief inspector of schools, claimed 15,000 of their colleagues were sub-standard.
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said he did not know where the figures had come from.
But neither, it seems, does Sir Cyril. Speaking to The TES, he denied he had ever said he wanted to sack that many teachers. He said: "I think our teachers do an outstanding job. In any organisation, if there are people blatantly not doing their jobs, you move them on. There are still more than 300 low-attaining schools. The problem might be teachers, but is usually leadership."
BBC Breakfast, which broke the story, denied it had misquoted Sir Cyril. A spokeswoman said that Sir Cyril had supplied the 17,000 figure but said the story did not suggest he wanted all to be sacked.
Sir Cyril is no stranger to controversy. Last year he said 500 secondaries seriously underperformed.
Risking more controversy, he told The TES that the expansion of academies provided a good opportunity to get rid of poor teachers.
Asked if he thought it was too difficult to sack such teachers, he said: "It's not difficult at all. You just have to pay them off. When a school becomes an academy, the headteacher can be appointed a year in advance. They can observe lessons and come up with a list of people they think should move on."
Sir Cyril said that the best estimates about the quality of teaching came from Ofsted figures. In the chief inspector's recent annual report, 5 per cent of secondary lessons and 3 per cent of primary lessons were described as inadequate. Many could have been due to teachers having a one-off bad lesson or working in challenging schools, Sir Cyril said.
He added that he was working on a number of initiatives to improve the quality of science teaching.
He hopes to negotiate a deal that could attract up to 5,000 Indian chemistry and physics teachers to the UK. Another scheme would recruit retiring soldiers and retrain them as science teachers. "Someone who has been manning a missile site will certainly know something about physics," said Sir Cyril. "And if they have been in charge of a platoon of soldiers, they are going to have natural discipline skills."
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