No need to fear the licence to teach

10th July 2009 at 01:00

Ed Balls was likened to a wild bull when he played football for a team called Demon Eyes FC, four of whose members went on to join Gordon Brown's Cabinet.

"Ed's only tactic was to try to muscle people out of the way," one former team-mate reported. Indeed. Legions of incompetent teachers must be quivering under their desks after hearing that Ed is now planning to put those notorious boots back on in order to "tackle" them under the new laughably Bondish licence to teach scheme.

This initiative will give some teachers the nightmare of the Secretary of State himself bursting through the classroom door - Ed ruddy-faced with the old footballing adrenalin - and scything down the hopeless classroom operative with one of his classic shin-crunchers.

Let's hope that he can pick out the right classrooms and the right teachers. Spotting "incompetent" performers is not as easy as he may think.

I don't think I have ever met a completely hopeless teacher. Nor was I ever taught by one. Anyone who has gone into teaching - just as anyone who has gone into playing football - has nearly always done so for a good reason. Native survival instinct means that people do not choose to play football or to teach children if they cannot do so.

Teachers cannot be placed on some simple Ofsted spectrum ranging from "outstanding" to "inadequate". As a footballer, Balls was perhaps "inadequate" with his left foot but more than made up for it with an "outstanding" right. Similarly, a teacher may lack personal charisma but inspire through using many sparkling resources.

Some footballers may not have the skill to dribble through a defence but may be the best player on the field at blocking and tackling. In the same way, a teacher may not always have perfect control but can often make up for that with enthusiasm, planning, dedication and care.

In fairness, I expect some headteachers do need to be bolder in persuading the few who are wholly unsuited to move on and out. However, the number who are irredeemably hopeless is tiny. The key to improving most practitioners - as with improving the performance of pupils - is support, training and sharing excellent practice.

Stephen Petty Head of humanities, Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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