My 12-year-old son has a simple method for appraising the quality of his teachers. "Good teachers," he states, "mark jotters. Poor teachers don't." The theory may have some limitations, but at least it helps highlight the difficulty of finding an acceptable way of determining the effectiveness of teachers and, perhaps, identifying those unsuitable for classroom work.
Although there are compelling arguments in favour of introducing appraisal, and for removing poor teachers from the classroom, agreement on the best way of achieving these objectives is lacking.
Something certainly has to be done to address the problem of unsatisfactory teaching in our schools. Some of the accounts of poor teaching I have heard from my own children are appalling. I have two children at secondary school and the general standard of teaching is good. But between them, my children have had three teachers who were obviously unable or unwilling to do the important job they were paid to do.
One of the three unsatisfactory teachers was enthusiastic and willing, but unable to control the class. She deserved help and support so that the positive attributes she offered were not lost to the profession. Last session she was seemingly left, in a single-teacher department, to struggle alone.
The second unsatisfactory teacher also had major problems settling and controlling classes. Swearing and rowdiness were commonplace and little learning took place. The problem was compounded by the fact that the teacher was head of department.
Last year's class was an important one for my daughter, who was in S4. When I raised my concerns over the lack of discipline and the effect on my daughter's education, the headteacher agreed there was a problem and admitted the teacher "had lost it". But his only solution was to offer my daughter a place in another class.
Whether the solution to such problems is to retrain, redeploy or sack is for others to decide. But the least acceptable option is the present policy of leaving struggling teachers in the classroom.
The third unsatisfactory teacher my children encountered was simply unwilling to provide the commitment or level of service his classes deserved. Lessons largely consisted of copying notes from books, and the pupils' jotters were unmarked. The teacher concerned sometimes read a newspaper instead of helping his pupils, and frequently told his classes he didn't care if they didn't want to do any work.
It is alarming that lazy teachers continue to be deployed in our classrooms and that such teachers are protected from dismissal by an unspoken "no sacking" arrangement between employers and the unions.
As a parent I object to the poor level of education provided by lazy teachers, and as a council tax payer I resent paying for teachers who are making little effort. The constant demands
for more money for education are well justified, but considerable room exists for making
better use of existing funds
The present agreements and arrangements seem to leave headteachers little scope for dealing with the problem of lazy and incompetent teachers. When I asked the headteacher at my children's school for details of the school's prcedures for monitoring the staff performance, and for dealing with allegations of incompetence, all he could say was that the school takes every possible step to ensure all its pupils receive a good education.
It is difficult to avoid gaining the impression that headteachers are forced to ignore the problem of lazy and incompetent teachers or pretend it doesn't exist.
Dealing with the problem of ineffective employees is no easy task in any profession. In my own city-centre office, my boss had to sack two of our workers. It was, he said, a difficult and unpleasant decision, but one which had to be made.
But the decision was the correct one for everyone concerned. Our service to the public improved, stress levels declined and my former colleagues eventually found jobs more suited to their abilities and talents.