The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

How To Sack A Teacher

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 26, 2009 @ 07:45

He looks a bit like this, actually...

He looks a bit like this, actually...

There’s a little problem in schools throughout the country. It’s not a problem unique to schools, in fact most organisations have it at some point.

It’s the question of how to let somebody go. Gracefully, if necessary, but with a firm kick if all earlier efforts fail. But there’s something about schools that makes this problem especially difficult.

It’s the small problem that, in the eyes of the profession, there are no bad teachers.

Sadly, there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of students throughout the country that would beg to differ, their educational careers being blighted as they are by shoddy standards.

There is a certain school I know and have a particular insight into. It’s not a good school. It only just scrapes by the government’s various benchmarks. In fact, it probably won’t be with us in 10 years time, instead merged (or “federated” in new educational-speak) with another failing school into an Academy. Why anyone thinks changing the school’s structure will solve the problem I don’t know, but that’s New Labour for you. Anyway…

This school has a couple of members of staff who really should have been put out to pasture a long time ago. One of them is a maths teacher, who is ageing badly, has no enthusiasm for his job, makes no effort to teach, and goes through the motions in order to get paid. His demeanour is belligerent, his attitude to professional development is one of arrogance, and his opinion of students is not printable on a decent publication such as this…

The students hate him. Most of the staff dislike him. Some have even noted that his behaviour towards students is such that he seems to be hoping one of the students take serious offence to his behaviour and stick one on him, giving him the perfect excuse to retire with an extremely generous compensation package.

But he goes on. And on. The man has been ruining children’s careers in mathematics for over 20 years. And for all that time, no headteacher has had the balls to take him on.

Anyone who’s run a business or any organisation will tell you that it requires leadership to sack someone. Headteachers are no different. But, throughout the land, poor headteachers are not brave enough to put inadequate teachers through the mill, instead hoping for an easy life by ignoring problems and instead being happy to “coast”.

The teacher in question has a very strong union on his side. A union’s job is to stick up for its members, so one would expect no less. The question of union strength is not the real issue, though. After all, it is a fellow teacher, his immediate “line manager” as head of the maths department, who has spent years trying to go through the procedures to get him out of the job.

The process is a nightmare, especially when a teacher is able to protest that they are being unfairly singled out. Perhaps they are even being discriminated against. Such allegations make the chances of getting rid of a teacher almost impossible.

There are other options. Early retirement. Ill health. Redundancy. The only problem is that, throughout the education system, there are teachers who don’t want to teach any more, but don’t want to do anything else. They want to keep collecting their pay cheques.

So the teachers don’t take any voluntary offers to go. They dig their heels in. Somehow, they evade OFSTED inspection. Governing bodies are incredibly weak and at the mercy of their chair (who may be in cahoots with the headteacher) – and so nothing happens.

And so, it brings it all back to my main point. If the head isn’t brave enough to take on a failed teacher, nothing happens. Instead, the problem gets passed on and on to each successive year group. In doing so, we let down our students very badly.

Schools and teachers must not be allowed to coast. Like it or not, it is an extraordinarily high-stakes profession, and must start to be treated as such. If teachers and school management cannot stand the pressure, then they need to get out of the way. There is too much money and time invested in education to allow students to suffer a failing system.

There is no bigger issue for improving outcomes for students than the quality of the teaching profession.  Solving the problem of how to sack a bad teacher – in an age when the number of available, alternative teachers is going up and up – is the first thing that any future education policy needs to tackle.

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2 Responses to “How To Sack A Teacher”

  1. Alix said

    Does it still work like it did when I was at school? As far as I recall it was like this. Teachers get three “chances” to improve after the governing body has decided to put them on serious review. Each chance is judged by special inspection. So a teacher can fail two inspections, and if they pass on the third they will be deemed worthy to come off serious review. But here’s the thing. Every time a teacher passes an inspection, they automatically go back to the first of their three chances.

    So even if matters build to a head three separate times over a particular teacher, complaints are made, poor appraisals collated etc and the governors decide to investigate, the teacher can still remain in post and still have as many “chances” left as a teacher who has never had a complaint or bad appraisal attached to them.

    In fact I’d love to know if this was just my school (grant-maintained) because it is exceptionally bonkers.

  2. I’ve not heard of that one, Alix. I guess all schools have different ways of dealing with getting rid of teachers.

    I’m with you though, it seems like a ridiculous policy. You wouldn’t hear of it in the private sector, and probably not in most of the rest of the public sector either.

    In many cases, it’s down to the governing body to make the call. Some of them have the guts. A lot of them don’t.

    Thanks for dropping by, and sorry for the delayed response.

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