Way to knock 'em when they're down

9th July 2010 at 01:00

BBC Panorama: Can I Sack Teacher?

BBC One, Monday July 5, 8.30pm

Is it ok for a teacher to allow her pupils to kick each other to the tune of 'Kung Fu Fighting' in a PE lesson?

This gloom-laden new BBC Panorama programme, investigating the alleged "15,000 incompetent teachers" in the UK, suggested not.

It cited the General Teaching Council for England's (GTC) failure to strike teacher Karen Thomas off the teaching register for the kung fu incident as "evidence" that the organisation is failing to weed out poor teachers.

But it doesn't mention that the GTC also found that the newly qualified teacher's school failed to help her improve her control over unruly classes.

In fact, the programme scrapes around everywhere for evidence that thousands of children's lives are being "ruined" by rogue teachers, recycled from school to school.

We are shocked by revelations that one teacher, loose in the nation's classroom even now, was found to have been shouting in lessons.

Children may indeed be suffering, but the programme itself failed to convince.

Largely it fell back on anecdotal evidence from dour-faced parents, claiming that their frowning offspring were happy until a dodgy supply teacher came along.

"Be afraid, viewers," the creepy soundtrack tinkling in the background seemed to be saying. Since when did parents decide on the competency of teachers?

A survey of Scottish and Birmingham headteachers elicited few replies: perhaps they are ashamed to admit they have a problem, the programme asked.

Or maybe they've just had enough of surveys.

The programme was so unnecessarily dramatic - think Chris Morris's Brass Eye news spoofs - you even started to root for David Dobbie, the Nottinghamshire teacher who apparently sneaked back into primary classrooms despite being banished by the GTC.

Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools who initiated the debate as early as 1995, quoting the "15,000 incompetent teachers" figure, was somewhat predictably interviewed as a talking head. It was good to see his views haven't changed.

A scrappy graph on a whiteboard, drawn by researcher Simon Burgess, then explained that children would get better grades if the bottom five per cent of teachers were struck off.

Ignoring other possible causes of a poor education, the programme then had a dig at the unions, too. Their attempts to get members facing competency proceedings a good deal are criticised for perpetuating the problem of "teacher recycling".

Yes, let's knock the unions who step in to support staff in need. They may have their faults, but all the unions are doing is protecting their membership, a valuable and important role. And, more importantly, they don't kick teachers when they're down.

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