Ministers urged to make it easier for sponsors to sack 'weak' academy staff

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Think tank says ability to fire underperforming teachers at struggling schools is key and legal obstacles should be removed

The government should examine a future change to the law to enable academy sponsors to fire underperforming teachers more easily, a report released this week says.

The document, published by right-of-centre think tank Policy Exchange, calls for a number of obstacles to be removed to make it easier for academy sponsors to sack "weaker" teachers when taking over a struggling school.

Academy sponsors are currently prevented from firing staff by legislation called the Transfer of Undertaking Protection of Employment (TUPE) Regulations 2006, which requires sponsors to take on staff from the old school, the report says.

The study, Blocking the Best, states: "Most sponsors cite TUPE as a considerable obstacle to independence. If a school is failing there is a high chance that one of the key problems will be the quality of teaching."

It added: "While we cannot easily extract schools from the grip of TUPE, its long-term future should be examined."

Anna Fazackerley, head of education at Policy Exchange and co-author of the report, said the obstacles surrounding redundancies and, in particular, the existence of TUPE "vastly curtails" the freedoms that academies and new state schools are supposed to have.

"I think (being able to remove underperforming teachers) is incredibly important," she said. "If a school is failing, the quality of teaching is likely to be a fundamental part of that.

"It is not all of it. You do not need to sweep out all the staff as a lot of teachers would blossom following the introduction of a new leadership team, but it does need to be made easier for schools who are trying to thrash out a new path."

Most United States charter schools consider their freedom to hire and fire people to be one of their most important differentiating factors, she added.

The report calls for action from the Government to make teachers' files more accessible once a school is being taken over by a new provider. It also demands that the three-hour limit on classroom observations should be scrapped.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, blasted the report's proposals, claiming they would have detrimental effects on teachers' rights.

"If the Policy Exchange recommendations are implemented it will be akin to using schools as a test bed for removing the employment rights of workers in the public sector," she said.

THE REPORT'S RECOMMENDATIONS

- The local authority should not have an effective veto on the existence of an academy. Co-operation should be encouraged, but should not be mandatory.

- To maximise the number of new schools, you could exempt them from all local planning investigation.

- The Building Schools for the Future programme should be radically simplified.

- Multiple sponsors should be given financial flexibility over operations.

- The Government should return to a situation in which academies have total freedom over the curriculum.

- The redundancy process should be made as predictable and easy to understand as possible for sponsors.

- The requirement for academy governing bodies to include a local authority representative should be removed.

- Academies should remain their own admissions authorities.

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