Must we settle for inadequate teaching?

With immanent publication of Michael Gove’s first White Paper, there have been a range of articles in the education press picking up on topics that have been leaked, mentioned or just guessed as likely to be included. Among them have been possible changes to the Performance Management system for teachers as well as performance related pay.
This has brought into focus the situation regarding the quality of teachers we now have in schools as well as those members of the teaching profession who are not up to the job of educating our children. Systems are in place for head teachers to follow should under-performance need addressing. If they are not addressed, then there are further procedures for dealing with incompetence.
Reading through the capability documentation, it seems a fairly simple procedure. However, it is extremely time consuming, incredibly stressful for all concerned and can create a very damaging atmosphere within the school. As a head teacher I had to address inadequate teaching among my staff. I hopefully had created a culture that was open and honest and built on a shared vision of improvement for staff and pupils alike. As a result, I don’t think it came as a surprise to any of the individuals concerned, when the informal capability stage was reached.
 Performance Management, if used correctly, can identify areas of underperformance relatively early. Support, training and the right approach can, nine times out of ten, bring about improvements so that teaching is of an appropriate standard (which is bordering on good at least in this day and age!)
However, it is when there is no discernable improvement after this support, that action must be taken and here is the rub. The process in place can take a long time. Each stage (there are a minimum of four) can last at least 6 weeks. Each stage has to have its accompanying truck load of paperwork to protect the teacher and the school and that obviously means a huge amount of the head teacher’s time is taken up and away from their core purpose which is learning. The rest of the staff can feel very unsettled knowing that this process is going on around them and this in turn can spill onto the children.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating allowing inadequate teachers to remain in post. Teachers have a very unique role in the learning of our children and only the best should be there. However, once it is clear that no amount of support is going to make any difference, it should be possible to move a teacher out of their post. I’m sure in the world of business any sort of under-performance would be dealt with effectively.
To start capability procedures against one of your team is a hard decision for most heads and not one taken lightly. You hope against hope at times that the teacher will resign when they can see that teaching is not for them. Compromise agreements can be reached but these have left a huge dent in education budgets. For some head teachers having to write a non-committal reference has been one of the most difficult things to do. Resignations and these costly agreements only serve to re-cycle possibly poor practitioners though.
My hope is that the Performance Management process becomes robust and monitored to ensure that it is used to create good teachers. Where this is not possible, there needs to be a system that is open, transparent and timely, so that the children are not subjected to poor teaching any longer than is necessary.
Perhaps the introduction of performance related pay will help? It does not in itself lead to improved standards but surely must be more equitable for those teachers who do maintain high standards?
Let us hope that our colleagues in the many teacher unions can can recognise the need to support this approach. After all, it could be their child in that class.

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  • Mackley Mark

    Interesting thoughts! Not had to deal with this issue yet in my ccareer but I have friends who have and I know the time and difficulty involved.
    Two things:
    1, creating the culture is of course key and takes time, what do you if you have poor teachers in post whilst you’re establishing that vision?
    2, PRP is a minefield which I don’t believe will work. I have had governors who work in industry who are against it because it doesn’t work in their experience. We also have it already effectively through performance management, you’re only supposed to progress if you prove you’re effective. Unfortunately the process hasn’t worked. Of course we haven’t even got onto those amazing teachers who work in incredibly challenging areas who achieve much for their children but will never achieve the academic expectations of our lords and masters!
    This is a debate which I think will run and run……….

    • jfb57

      Hi Mark & well done for battling with Disqus to post your comment! You are right about the debate running I think but it needs to be faced. The key is to encourage new teachers to get the support they need and to recognise when things are not working. Like you, I’m not sure aboiut PRP. We’ll just have to wait and see! Thanks again. Hope to see you here again!

  • Perhaps if there was proper scaffolding and mentoring with formative assessment instead of summative blame around high stakes testing we might have a more professional approach. It’s a thought 😉

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