Peacock urges quicker action on weak staff

12th December 2008 at 00:00
Former minister says poor performance must be faced, but damning headlines cause concern

Scotland's former education minister has called on local authorities to improve their handling of teachers who are not up to the job.

Peter Peacock, the architect of the General Teaching Council for Scotland's new powers to take action over incompetent teachers, spoke to The TESS following last week's landmark hearing, which struck Susan Barnard, 55, from the teachers' register.

Mr Peacock said: "It doesn't happen overnight that teachers become a liability to their colleagues and their pupils. This points to weaknesses in the management process, which should be geared to intervene more quickly and take action before difficulties escalate. That's the next challenge.

"Poor teacher performance is not the biggest problem facing Scottish education. It does exist, however, and where it occurs, it's got to be dealt with fairly - but dealt with."

When he was education minister, Mr Peacock called for poorly performing teachers to be put on probation and given a year, with support, to bring themselves up to the mark. If that failed, they would be dismissed. He now says local authorities should be able to help such teachers switch careers.

David Cameron, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, also called for a speedier resolution of these cases, in particular the time lag between dismissal of an incompetent teacher and the appeal stage.

Official figures continue to obscure the problem. Only three cases are said to be pending - two involving teachers in Clackmannanshire and Fife. A survey of other authorities showed 26 had not dismissed any teacher for being incompetent; four failed to provide information.

Tony Finn, chief executive of the GTCS, said there was unlikely to be a "flood" of hearings. Yet, HMIE has reported that 5 per cent of lessons were badly taught. Mr Peacock said: "That's a relatively small figure, but it involves a lot of teachers, impacts on a great many pupils and leads to considerable frustration among parents."

The Scottish educational fraternity was in no mood to pat itself on the back after last week's GTCS hearing involving Mrs Barnard. Instead, there was an air of regret at a colleague's ordeal.

Mrs Barnard listened to a 40-page litany of her failings over a three-year period while employed by Perth and Kinross Council, before being struck from the teaching register. The historic case caused a media scrum and damning headlines, which Mr Finn regretted. The GTCS was not permitted to hold the entire process behind closed doors, but he said: "We would have preferred it if she had been treated with a bit more dignity."

Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said competence hearings were preferable to shifting bad teachers into non-teaching posts. But she, too, was uncomfortable with the media attention on Mrs Barnard, and would prefer hearings to be held in private. She feared the public would get a disproportionate sense of the number of bad teachers.

"People who are not competent are not guilty of a crime; they are just not good at their jobs," she said.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, was concerned by some "shrill" coverage. He feared widespread reporting of a case before a decision was reached could have a subconscious effect on GTCS deliberations, and he favoured private hearings.

Sacked, but allowed to do supply teaching

The father of an 11-year-old girl taught by Mrs Barnard after she was sacked by Perth and Kinross Council has questioned why she was allowed to do supply work for Stirling Council.

Allan Hunter claimed her teaching had not improved while at Kippen Primary. He also said there were "questions to be asked" of HMIE, which had given the school a very good report. Inspectors had seen Mrs Barnard and recorded no concerns.

David Cameron, director of children's services in Stirling, said officials and school staff were aware she had been sacked by Perth and Kinross Council, and were reminded about "robust monitoring procedures" for using supply teachers, but there was not enough evidence to remove Mrs Barnard from the supply list until she admitted incompetence charges.

There was "absolutely no evidence of an impact on the attainment of children as a result of her employment," Mr Cameron added.

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