Focus on... tough talk

18th January 2012

Frustration at the time and bureaucracy involved in tackling inadequate teachers has been a regular complaint raised by Head Teachers at SCHOOLS NorthEast MPs lunches and consultation events.  Last week, Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that plans to make it easier for Head Teachers to sack underperforming staff are to go ahead from September.  The procedure for dealing with underperforming teachers will be "simplified" and given a shorter minimum timeframe, meaning that the process could be completed in as little as nine weeks. Introducing the changes, Gove said that schools have been "tangled in red tape" for too long when dealing with struggling staff.


The new measures will also require teachers to be assessed every year on whether they meet new standards on teaching and ‘personal and professional conduct’, and the three-hour per year limit on the time a Head can observe a teacher in the classroom has been lifted.

To address the problem of poor teachers being moved on from school to school, Gove is consulting on proposals which would mean that schools would have to reveal that a previous employee had been through ‘capability procedures’ if another school enquired.


The announcement received a mix response from the education unions. Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers said “The changes will rightly be seen by teachers as an attack on their professionalism and will anger and depress them”; and Chris Keates of the NASUWT argued that the changes were “draconian and based on manipulated evidence". However, the moves were broadly welcomed by Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), who stated: “Everyone deserves to know how they are doing and how they can develop and this needs to be done out in the open. The revised procedures reflect a large proportion of NAHT's hopes. They are simple and flexible, firm but fair”.


Adding to the tough talk on schools and teachers this week was Ofsted's new Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, expressing his desire to change "satisfactory" rating to "requires improvement". Wilshaw said he wants to send a message that "satisfactory" is now unsatisfactory and that more schools should be pushing for the higher rating of "good".

The plans will go into consultation but if they are agreed schools will only be allowed to stay at the "requires improvement" level for three years - and will be subject to earlier re-inspections after 12 to 18 months.

Sir Michael was speaking ahead of a Downing Street summit on so-called "coasting" schools, stating "There are too many coasting schools not providing an acceptable standard of education.

Of particular concern are the 3,000 schools educating a million children that have been 'satisfactory' two inspections in a row. This is not good enough. That is why I am determined to look again at the judgements we award, not only so we are accurately reporting what we see, but so that those schools that most need help are identified and can properly begin the process of improvement. I make no apology for making even greater demands of an education system which has to respond with greater urgency to increasingly difficult and competitive economic circumstances."


Responding to the announcement, Labour's shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said coasting schools "need more than just a new label" and criticised the removal of routine inspections of outstanding schools: “Outstanding schools can quickly slip back, so this measure could undermine confidence in the system and mean parents only get out-of-date information."


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