Incompetent staff can be moved on

20th June 1997 at 01:00
A camp which includes some present as well as ex-ministers alongside Graham Lane, Chris Woodhead and much of the popular press is formidable. They are all wrong, however, first, to imply a simple dichotomy of "good" or "bad" teachers and second, to characterise local education authority employers as either weak or powerless.

LEAs and schools can, and do, dismiss incompetent staff. Existing procedures do not inhibit swift action, but to move quickly, heads andor governors and LEAs must be well-organised and determined. Good organisation, comprising evidence of observation, warnings, support and monitoring is straightforward. Sufficient determination is difficult and has to be explicit and unwavering.

Over the past five years in Hampshire we have dismissed for incompetence only three or four heads and teachers. In the same time we have "moved on" many times that number who have been "poor" or "very weak" rather than incompetent. That has been achieved not by spending huge sums on rewarding failure but because the staff themselves and their associations, coupled with the determination of governors and heads and working with my personnel staff, have found solutions allowing dignified and sensitive exit.

In the public education system there has to be a limit on our tolerance of poor teaching and our willingness to "give a chance" to those who under-perform. Neither our product - high educational achievement - nor the process - teaching large infinitely variable groups - allow simple judgment or rapid improvement. Hence as well as determination, LEAs do need staff to monitor, inspect, advise and support where possible and to judge when improvement is not possible.

The immediate problem faced by everyone responsible for education - ministers, councillors, officers and heads - follows the disastrous change in the rules for early retirement. The new rules make it harder to remove poor or tired teachers who are not incompetent but who will not significantly improve before they retire. Also, the greater demands of the job and the higher expectations of parents and the community point to the need to increase, not diminish, the incentives for teachers to retire early. There is a strong case for spreading the financial cost of early retirements across the system and re-thinking the burden now being placed on employers.

PETER COLES Director of education Hampshire County Council

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