Reforms see failing teachers sacked within term

13th January 2012 at 00:00
Disciplinary procedures to be streamlined to tackle the profession's underperformers

Underperformance in the classroom has been a political football since long before the coalition was formed. Consequently, a major - and controversial - reform of how failing teachers are defined, managed and removed from the profession has long been trailed by ministers.

This week, it landed. Among the structural changes will be a streamlined process for sacking weak teachers, which will take a term instead of more than a year.

Ministers are also consulting on new proposals that will mean that senior leaders have to tell prospective employers, on request, whether a teacher is, or has been, subject to capability procedures.

It is hoped that these changes will stop teachers being "recycled" within the education system - a process known as "passing lemons".

Michael Gove has also confirmed that he will remove the three-hour limit on heads formally observing teachers, something he first mooted in 2009.

The changes will make it easier for heads to manage their staff and will help to ensure that teachers are performing to the best of their abilities, Mr Gove claimed.

"These reforms will make it easier for schools to identify and address the training and professional development teachers need to fulfil their potential and to help their pupils to do the same," he said. "For far too long, schools have been tangled up in complex red tape when dealing with teachers who are struggling. That is why these reforms focus on giving schools the responsibility to deal with this issue fairly and quickly.

"Schools need to be able to dismiss more quickly those teachers who, despite best efforts, do not perform to the expected standard. Future employers also need to know more about the strengths and weaknesses of teachers they are potentially employing.

"Nobody benefits when poor teaching is tolerated. It puts pressure on other teachers and undermines children's education."

There are currently 16 pages of regulations and 52 pages of guidance on performance management and capability proceedings. Mr Gove has long argued that these regulations are too prescriptive and complex, and that they overlap and duplicate each other.

The regulations will be replaced with new, streamlined regulations and a 13-page "model" policy that covers both appraisal and capability issues, which heads can use if they wish.

The new arrangements come into effect from September 2012. They have been welcomed by headteacher associations.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the new system had "clarity".

"We have long argued that the process needed to be streamlined. When the process starts, teachers should be provided with the support they need to be successful and then proceedings should move on swiftly," he said. "The previous system was too drawn out. Children get only one chance and problems need to be resolved, hopefully by the teacher improving their performance."

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of teaching union ATL, said increases in lesson observation do not help to improve teacher performance.

"It's important to remember why that limit is in place. You need good observations with focus and outcomes. At the moment, teachers have masses of informal observations with very little feedback," she said. "It puts them under enormous stress and has no effect on their performance. Less is more. You need a carefully focused observation where people can talk in depth and detail and set action plans."

Dr Bousted also told TES that teachers need time to improve during capability proceedings or the process will become a "vindictive exercise".

The Department for Education had previously consulted on plans to require schools to pass copies of teachers' annual appraisal reports to prospective employers. These have now been scrapped after a negative reaction from unions and others who responded.

The new consultation will ask what information about disciplinary hearings should be shared. But it is clear which way heads' leaders will fall. "We now have a straightforward approach. This information is something employers genuinely need to know," Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said. "The next thing to do is to think about whether there should be a time limit - if someone has come out of capability and succeeded, is it right to include that information?"


For performance management purposes, three hours may be sufficient, though I am aware of teachers who have been unsuccessful at proving targets have been met if they have not had sufficient evidence.

Miss Pious

I honestly couldn't care less about being observed. Three times in a year is hardly the end of the world and is well down the list of things I worry about. I suspect, however, that if my observations had been unsatisfactory I would feel differently.


Lesson observations. What are they for? I spent 33 years as a teacher and was never "observed", just like my doctor is never "observed" and my accountant is never "observed".

Christopher Curtis


Sutton Trust researchers found that there is a strong link between "effective" teaching and pupil performance.

A study from the charity last year said that, during one year with a very effective maths teacher, pupils gain 40 per cent more in their learning than they would with a poorly performing maths teacher.

The impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds is even more significant. Over a school year, these pupils gain 1.5 years' worth of learning with highly effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years when they have poorly performing teachers.

Researchers said that bringing the lowest-performing 10 per cent of teachers in the UK up to the average would greatly boost attainment and would lead to a sharp improvement in the UK's international ranking for education.

Original headline: Performance reforms to see failing teachers sacked within a term

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