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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Michael Wilshaw, Michael Gove and inadequate teachers - who will win?

I won't lie. I'm delighted that Michael Wilshaw has been appointed Chief Inspector of Ofsted and I'm delighted that Education Secretary Michael Gove is going to have a real go at raising teaching standards, particularly helping schools challenge inadequate teachers, as detailed in this article.

Those who believe in the comprehensive state school system should also be delighted. Because at some point the catch 22 situation needs to be broken.  If you want everyone to feel comfortable sending their children to state schools then there are issues that need to be dealt with in those state schools. Michael Wilshaw has proved he can do it at Mossbourne Academy, and if, through the inspection system he can spread the magic dust he evidently has across the state school system then we will really be onto something.With the help of Gove, he might well do.

That said, there will be some people who will be afraid. Very afraid. Wilshaw has had enough of inadequate teachers. Not just that, he says he has had enough of teachers who are what he calls "coasting along" - doing what they have to do to stay in their jobs but no more - more of those in my next article.

But I want to talk about the inadequate teachers. Nothing has angered and frustrated me more during my teaching careers than teaching alongside plainly inadequate teachers. It is believed that they cost each child they teach a full grade for every year they teach them. The danger is more long term than that though. If you get an inadequate science teacher in Year 9 (in many state schools science teachers teach all three sciences to the same class) a child may lose their love of science. They may choose not to take triple science for GCSE and may drop their idea of going into a medical career. Inadequate teachers can really make that much difference to a child's life.

But it's not just the children. Inadequate teachers make their close colleagues' lives hard too. If you teach A-level there will, on many occasions, be just two of you teaching it. You can either split up the units students are taking or you can try and teach them together, splitting up the content. Whichever way you do it, the students will not learn anything in the lessons with the inadequate teacher. This means you are given a choice. You can teach the content the inadequate teacher can't/won't teach, or you can leave the students to fail.

Think about what that choice means. If you leave the students to fail the units they are taking with the inadequate teacher you are effectively leaving them to..say.. miss out on university, massively lessening their life chances. As a professional are you really able to do that? It's really hard.

So, to teach the content the inadequate teachers can't/won't teach you need to either teach a lot more in the timetabled lessons you have or you need to teach extra lessons after school or in holiday times. You will need to also do extra marking of work and past papers. It's absolutely exchausting, incredibly stressful, and not something that can be kept up for a long time.

So, inadequate teachers can destroy the life chances of their students and the working lives of their colleagues. Yet, as Chris Woodhead, the controversial former Chief Schools Inspector said in 1999, there are about 17,000 inadequate teachers in the UK. Less than 20 have been struck off by the general teaching council. So, why the gap?

Well, it's actually quite complicated. When you try to deal with an inadequate teacher you are, first of all, telling a human being they are at risk of losing their job, their lifeblood, the source of food on their childrens' table. It is an extraordinarily sensitive issue and cannot and should not be rushed. You need to be prepared for accusations of bullying, and possibly discrimination.

Secondly, you are dealing with the teaching unions. Their job is to protect the interests of their members, and they must treat those members equally. Given the power of the teaching unions - in particular the amount of teachers they represent - you need to work WITH them. The teaching unions will appear to support inadequate teachers. In fact this is not true - like any good defence lawyer they make sure that should you be trying to rid your school of an inadequate teacher you go through the proper process.

The proper process involves 'competency' procedures - where you inform the teacher you are concerned about their teaching and you make an effort to support them. Many inadequate teachers may have training needs and they deserve to be trained and given every chance to improve. The onus should be on the school to prove this has happened. Some might well improve. But some have no intention of improving, or some can't. Some will simply not put in the work to improve. They are the ones who are most likely to bleat that they are being 'bullied'. The unions' argument is that as long as the school can prove they followed the correct procedure they will not stand in the way. But too often schools don't do that. Because they are afraid of what it does to 'collegiality' and 'morale'. Not dealing with inadequate teachers is more of a cultural problem than a legal one.

Yet I argue the most damage to 'collegiality' and 'morale' is done to those teachers doing a good job who are either having to carry their inadequate colleagues or watch them fail their students.

What Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw will hopefully do is make the task of improving/removing inadequate teachers easier - and if that means using legislation then so be it. An example is that a teacher can only be officially observed for three hours a year. Three hours a year! If you ask most Heads of Department about that they will tell you that even the worst teacher in their department can put a show on for three hours in a year. They will then go back to ruining their students life chances and there is little we can do about it.

If I were the teaching unions - I would work with Wilshaw and Gove on this - AND be seen to be doing so. By all means protect teachers against actual bullying and actual unfair treatment - but those union chiefs who understand the big picture should realise that inadequate teachers hurt their own unions' reputation almost as much as they hurt their students.

Because let's just remember who the education system is being run for. The students. Right.......?


  1. Ofsted is just talk talk , they go to lessons where they spend no more than 10 minutes ( in a few occasions 1 to 2 minute ) and then come out and start ruining teachers' lives. In my school one of the best teachers who every student see as a one the best teachers was observed by OFSTED and then told he was inadequate and guess what ? so far he managed to get the best results for all his classes ( KS4 /KS5) FUNNY HEY ...HAHAHA
    OFSTED need to ged rid of their aggressive and useless attitude which they seem to get from MR Gove who thinks sacking teachers is the solution ,,,,

  2. Mr Gove It is that time when you should start thinking to work with teachers and not against them. Talk sense but don't try to be the Education 'fascist' , sacking teachers would not solve the problem .. ....

  3. There are undoubtedly situations where Ofsted criteria for judging teachers don't quite match what is needed to achieve the best outcomes. From 2006-2009 for instance my KS4 and KS5 results were regarded as excellent yet I never got above 'satisfactory' for my teaching as when observed I either panicked a bit and messed up the delivery or my lesson didn't tick the boxes. I still argue that the work my Head of Department at the time did to improve my teaching was extremely important and has enabled me to improve as a teacher even if my results were OK beforehand.

    BUT - and I don't know whether you are a student or a teacher - I still maintain that if you are taught by an inadequate teacher or have to work with an inadequate teacher your life is made far more difficult - you could fail a subject you love if you are a student or have to double the amount of work you do just to make sure the students don't fail if you are a teacher.

    I agree with you that we don't want a system in which high achieving teachers like the one you mention get 'sacked' because they don't meet the tick box criteria. Actually his story is an advert for MORE observation of teachers - because if he is getting those results but that observation feedback then he is likely to have had a bad lesson when observed by Ofsted, which is very possible and more observations would allow his day-to-day teaching prowess to come through.

    I also agree that working 'with' teachers is important. If a teacher is weak and can be trained and supported to get better that's one thing. But what if the teacher is weak and refuses to accept they are weak and refuses help and support and their pupils suffer....what would you do then?