Michael Gove’s plans to make it easier to sack underperforming teachers are sensible, but they will be meaningless unless there is a major cultural shift in schools
I had a weary sense of deja vu listening to Michael Gove on the radio this morning, talking about his plans to toughen up capability procedures. For the Today listeners, Gove highlighted his plans to ‘allow’ schools to remove poor teachers within a term rather than a year.
Since they have been able to do so since 1998, when a fast-track process was introduced, this was not quite news. The real problem is partly that the procedures, thanks to the teaching unions, were more complex than they should have been – and Gove is easing this – and partly the same culture in schools that has made performance pay seem more like incremental progression in too many cases.
Gove’s changes include:
* giving schools more freedom over managing their teachers through simpler, less prescriptive appraisal regulations;
* removing the three-hour limit on observing a teacher in the classroom so that schools have the flexibility to decide what is appropriate;
* a requirement to assess teachers every year against the new, simpler and sharper Teachers’ Standards – the key skills that are needed;
* allowing poorly performing teachers to be removed in about a term – the process can currently take a year or more;
* an optional new model policy for schools that deals with both performance and capability issues;
* scrapping more than 50 pages of unnecessary guidance
All this is perfectly sensible. However, unless there is a major cultural shift in schools, particularly primaries, they will be relatively meaningless.
Heads often fear that unless they promote virtually all those eligible for progression they will cause discord in the staffroom. Equally, there is a sense among teachers that unless they get pay progression for excellence reasonably automatically, it is a sign of failure rather than a spur to do better.
A growing minority of schools – particularly academies – have the confidence to challenge this consensus. But it remains too strong in too many schools, and it is the reason why the apparently radical reforms to performance pay – hugely contentious at the time – have been ineffectual. There is also a strong case for an annual reward scheme for schools showing the biggest improvements.
The truth is that it is this culture, as much as the complexity of the guidance, that explains why it can typically take a year to remove an incompetent teacher. Teachers are often given far more informal chances to improve than they would get in most other working environments before any formal process starts: of course they need the chance to improve, but it can become quickly apparent whether they are willing to do so.
Gove’s changes are perfectly reasonable, and build sensibly on changes introduced in the late 90s, but they will only effect the radical difference that their prominence in today’s news bulletins promise if the freedom to manage teacher performance more flexibly translates into a new mindset in schools themselves.
This post first appeared on Conor’s Commentary