More from the Ofsted school of hard knocks

28th September 2012 at 01:00
`Brutal' improvement advice tells heads to dismiss poor teachers

A heads' leader has described it as "brutal", "extreme" and "negative": Ofsted's latest school improvement advice certainly does not pull its punches.

The watchdog's new guide for heads on how to "achieve success" contains no fewer than five separate references to getting rid of poor teachers, three of them in the first two pages.

Good heads "are not afraid to hold challenging conversations which often lead to staff leaving schools", according to the study, which looks at schools that have progressed from "satisfactory" to "good" and "outstanding". Elsewhere, it talks about how "eradicating" poor teaching is often accompanied by the "weakest teachers leaving". And it says it is not just classroom teachers who need to be moved on: in order to establish strong leadership teams, senior staff may need to be replaced.

The hard-hitting report comes in the same week that Sir Michael Wilshaw has again been generating headlines with his tough talk for the teaching profession. Teachers should expect to work long hours and "go the extra mile" if they are to justify pay rises, the chief inspector said - a message also touched on in this report.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said Ofsted had got the balance wrong. "I thought it was a pretty brutal vision of school improvement if you add in all the euphemisms for sacking people," he said.

"I think this is at the extreme end of the negative continuum. Sometimes that is necessary, but only in certain school environments. If it is genuinely bad and people won't step up to the mark, then yes, you are going to lose some. But there will be other schools that are satisfactory where all the staff are just crying out for improvement and want to be developed."

The report also notes that in all 12 schools visited for the study, "there were teachers whose practice had previously been weak who had risen to the challenge and were now teaching good or better lessons".

But Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of education union the ATL, said there was a contradiction between Ofsted's emphasis on good continuing professional development and its endorsement of heads "acting like football managers".

"If you immediately get rid of staff and bring in your own team, then in the long term teachers' weaknesses will not be addressed," he said.

The report follows warnings made last week by Sir Michael against early GCSE entry and mixed-ability teaching, which prompted complaints that Ofsted is "micromanaging" schools.

The study also highlights the importance of avoiding a "one size fits all" curriculum, tracking pupil progress, improving school buildings, and careful recruitment.

It is published as heads are coming under ever greater pressure from Ofsted, with the "satisfactory" rating being axed and replaced with "requires improvement" from this term. Schools judged to be less than good will be given just four years to come up to scratch.

As well as focusing on dismissing underperforming staff, the study suggests that swollen teacher pay packets are another issue to be tackled in underperforming schools. "In five schools visited, staff had been found to be overpaid," it says, adding that successful heads "quickly established" a "much more rigorous approach".

"Of all the issues that may affect pupil achievement, the detail of staff pay rates is really, really tiny," Mr Johnson said.

Mr Hobby said proper performance pay was important but had already been highlighted by Ofsted. "I think they are stressing that to fit an existing agenda," he said. "I fear they have gone out to confirm what they already believed was the case.

"I am sure these schools have done brilliant work, but you could find another dozen schools that have achieved the same results in an entirely different way."

Good qualities

Ofsted found several shared themes in the 12 good and outstanding schools it visited. The heads all:

  • Insisted that all pupils could achieve highly regardless of background;
  • Established a non-negotiable requirement for good teaching - satisfactory teaching was not good enough;
  • Accepted nothing less than good behaviour from pupils;
  • Expected teachers and leaders to improve their work and to be responsible for their own development;
  • Changed the curriculum so that it met the needs of all pupils.

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