Are too few incompetent teachers being sacked?

6 July 2010

Some commentators have felt that there are as many as 17,000 incompetent teachers in our schools, and yet only a handful of them have been sacked officially. A recent Panorama programme suggested that these teachers are passed from school to school because headteachers are too frightened to sack them. It’s basically easier for a head to offer good references and a new job instead of going through the laborious procedures needed to sack a teacher. In my experience, this is true. What is more, these teachers often get kicked upstairs into managerial jobs away from the classroom: many of them become deputies, assistant heads, and headteachers. Many incompetent teachers are experts at hiding their incompetence in the classroom, experts at blaming other people and buck passing. Essential requirements for headteachers! Ha, only joking!

While too few useless teachers are taken out of the profession, there is also a culture of fear whereby good teachers are not allowed to admit to their failings. What is needed is a much more open system where teachers can honestly discuss their problems and figure out ways to solve them. I’m doing some Action Research for my PhD: this approach to research has at its core the idea that a teacher should be constantly reflecting upon what they are doing, being honest about what they are doing. However, Action Research is neither fashionable in schools nor academia. I just had an academic criticise my approach today as not being worthy of a PhD. Things need to change so that teachers feel like it is part and parcel of their job to reflect upon what they are doing wrong — and right. Only then will incompetent teachers properly come to light. Hopefully, also the causes their incompetence will be better handled, either by helping them to become functioning teachers or they will be eased out of the classroom into a job more suited to them.

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