Saturday, July 10, 2010


I think I’m very fortunate – I work with lots of absolutely inspirational teachers. Earlier this week, I watched the Panorama programme “Can I Sack Teacher?”. It included an interview with Chris Woodhead who had caused some controversy in the late 1990s, when he was HM’s Chief Inspector of Schools, by claiming there were some 15,000 “incompetent” teachers nationally (representing some 4-5% teachers). In my limited experience of schools (governor of a primary school, working in a secondary school and, of course, in connection with our own children’s education), I suspect this percentage might be about right – although I think the description “unsatisfactory”, rather than “incompetent”, might be a little fairer (and which perhaps echoes similar figures in other professions?). The programme highlighted that the General Teaching Council had the ability to remove incompetent teachers but that, in some 40 years, only 18 had actually been “struck off” – which does seem ridiculously meagre.
In an ideal world, it seems reasonable that poor teachers shouldn’t be allowed to continue teaching. I think I’ve come across perhaps less than a handful of well-experienced teachers who probably can’t teach effectively and also “student” teachers who “aren’t meant” to be teachers (but still allowed to pass their PGCE year). In the former case, this just doesn’t seem right – apparently only 0.07% of teachers are referred to the General Teaching Council (GTC) each year for “incompetence”. In the latter case, I accept that some of them might become reasonable teachers with experience and that, without the experience, they won’t – but the world of architecture, for example, is pretty rigorous in vetting budding architects at the final hurdle and deferring membership for 12 months or so, so why not teachers too?
The Panorama programme also included a reference to good teachers being able to achieve better grades for their pupils (eg. by as much as one GCSE grade). I don’t doubt that this is true, but I do strongly object to judging teachers only on the basis of their pupils’ examination results. I am certainly aware of instances in schools (purely what I’ve been told, you understand!) whereby “poor” teachers have been timetabled to teach “good” pupils because they “wouldn’t be able to deal with pupils from the bottom sets”…. which surely isn’t a fair way to assess teaching abilities?
In the meantime, teachers will no doubt continue to be a hugely under-valued profession in the eyes of many…. which is an absolute travesty.


Anonymous said...

Chris Woodhead's company owns my school! The Head has recently handed in his notice somewhat mysteriously without reason. The general feeling is he has been somewhat pushed! EN

bigdaddystevieB said...

Interesting to read the comments of the OFSTED chairman, Zenna Atkins, in the Sunday Times and on the BBC website (but stressing that they were her personal views), for example:
“Every School should have a useless teacher... See more” and that schools should not try to get rid of every inadequate teacher.
“If kids can manage to cope with one bad teacher that’ll be a good learning lesson for them in life – it is not an absolute disaster”.
I think she might regret saying some of this in due course (although I understand that Ms Atkins is leaving her job at the end of August to take up a role with a private education company!).