Trial by peers proposed to weed out bad staff

16th August 1996 at 01:00
Teachers should be forced to take a five-yearly competence test, including a "trial by peers" with parents and pupils who would also check that they are up to the job.

These radical proposals are put forward by a leading academic in a book to be published in November which could form a blueprint for a future Labour government.

The book by Professor Michael Barber, dean of new initiatives at the London University Institute of Education, contains a remarkable personal endorsement from the Labour leader Tony Blair.

In a forward to the book, The Learning Game: Arguments for an Education Revolution, Mr Blair describes the author as one of British education's "most stimulating thinkers" and the ideas he sets forth as "provocative and timely, illuminating and optimistic".

Many of the arguments advanced in the book have been expounded in articles, lectures and speeches over the past two years.

These include an ambitious plan to tax child benefit for better-off parents to raise Pounds 1 billion to fund a network of homework study centres and provide vouchers worth Pounds 200 for 4 million children from disadvantaged families. The vouchers would be used to buy computer equipment and other materials to help with school work.

But for many teachers, his most controversial solutions include a reconstruction of the teaching profession, based on self-regulation through a general teaching council. At the top of his agenda is a plan to remove poor teachers from the profession through an MOT-style appraisal system.

This would mean teachers having to re-register every five years, in effect applying for a new licence to teach. There would be three possible outcomes. At one end of the scale they would be given a clean bill of health while, at the other, they would be failed as unfit to teach. But failure would be rare, says Professor Barber.

Commonly, teachers would be re-registered under certain conditions and given a period - perhaps 12 months - to address weaknesses or fill gaps in their teaching knowledge - for example taking a course in the use of information technology in the classroom.

The appraisal scheme would be carried out by colleagues but the outcome would partly depend on questioning parents and, in secondary schools, older pupils about teachers' performance.

Professor Barber first mooted the idea of regular checks at a Secondary Heads Association conference two years ago, but this is the first time he has spelled out the scheme in detail. Last year, during a controversial TESGreenwich lecture, he put forward proposals to give inspectors the power to prepare confidential reports on poor teachers and suggested they might provide a basis to allow heads to take disciplinary procedures against poor teachers. The idea was condemned by teachers' leaders.

But while the plan is certain to cause fresh dissent within the profession, Professor Barber insists tough action to improve teaching standards is essential.

"The really important thing is that unless the profession takes responsibility itself, someone else - like the chief inspector of schools - will do it for them. It is not an option to do nothing."

Other proposals will include a major overhaul of the national curriculum, with more prescription in the teaching of the 3Rs and less in other subjects, and a new national target to ensure all children can read well by the end of primary school, coupled with the establishment for each pupil of an "individual learning promise", which would set targets for improvement every six months.

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