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Time to shape up, or get out

The Education Minister is considering plans to crack down on incompetent teachers.

The TES Scotland understands that Peter Peacock wants to put these teachers, literally, on probation. His approach would emulate the lessons learnt from the structured probation system, providing failing teachers with support and giving them a year to bring themselves up to the mark. If that failed, they would be dismissed.

It would then be up to the General Teaching Council for Scotland to decide whether their competence was of such a magnitude that they should be removed from the register.

By coincidence, the GTC's new powers over incompetent teachers come into effect on July 1. This follows a parliamentary commencement order to give effect to the provisions of the 2000 Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act.

Prior to the GTC's involvement, the tiny number of teachers dismissed for incompetence by one authority could find a job with another. Removal from the register will prevent that. One of the factors the GTC will take into account is the extent of support given to a teacher before he or she is sacked.

Mr Peacock has repeatedly made clear his belief that "the vast majority of teachers achieve great success and many go the extra mile for their pupils". But he now believes it is time to iron out the differences, particularly as he has been anxious to preach the mantra of "trust the professionalism of teachers".

The Scottish Executive's curriculum and assessment reforms are based on returning the initiative to the classroom, which makes the quality of teaching more critical than ever. Mr Peacock also wants to spread the message that schools should not be afraid to do things differently, encapsulated in his famous "Starship Enterprise" call in January for teachers "to boldly go".

The minister's latest initiative is part of a wider offensive to look more closely at links between poverty and performance. He has been particularly stimulated by findings from a study led by Professor Phil Hanlon of Glasgow University, which suggests that the poor health record in the west of Scotland might not be attributable purely to the area's depressed economic circumstances.

Mr Peacock believes this may be true for education as well. He has long drawn attention to the markedly different results produced by schools in very similar circumstances, a point reinforced this week with the HMIE report on St Andrew's Secondary (page four), which serves some of the most deprived areas in Glasgow - and therefore in the country.

While leadership is still viewed as the key to success, Mr Peacock wants to see more honesty and openness in dealing with teacher competence and other factors which can impact on schools, such as the differential performance between secondary departments.

The minister clearly believes his message will fall on receptive ears when he says that "high-performing teachers are as anxious as I am to enhance the performance of the profession as a whole".

In his TES Scotland interview last week, Mr Peacock observed: "Our biggest enemy is complacency - despite our strengths."

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