THE GENERAL TEACHING COUNCIL
Awareness of its weaknesses doesn’t extend to removing poor teachers
The General Teaching Council deserved some praise earlier this year when it released a warts and all survey of how its stakeholders perceived it, conducted by the consultancy Rand Europe. If only more quangos would do the same, using independent research, they might begin to become more demand led and see themselves as others see them.
The general Teaching Council is “too large and unwieldy” and does not have the backing of teachers, the research commissioned by the organisation itself concluded. Its survey found that eight years after it was established, the council has failed to “win the hearts and minds” of school staff. Fundamental changes to its remit may now be necessary to allow it to develop successfully, the research recommends. The conclusions resulted from in-depth interviews with 14 of the council’s stakeholders, which include the teaching unions, local authorities and educational bodies. Many reported that the council’s remit was “problematic” and that it would be better if it focused only on registering and regulating teachers. At present, the GTC is also supposed to act as an advocate for the profession. “There is sufficient weight of concern on this issue that the council should take note and consider whether a change of remit would be helpful and should be sought,” the report, said. But opinions on the GTC’s role were “sharply polarised” among respondents, with others wanting the council to do more to champion the cause of teachers. A spokeswoman for the GTC, at the time, admitted that there was still a “big job” to do to persuade people that having such a wide remit was valuable, but the council has already ruled out narrowing it.
But the key problem of the GTC is the fact that it has failed to get rid of bad teachers.
The US Sanders and Rivers Tennessee study, often quoted by politicians, examined the effect a teacher could have on academic performance, and found that if two average ability eight-year-olds were given different teachers, one a high performer and one a low performer, the children’s academic performance would diverge by more than 50 per cent within just three years.
Other studies from the UK by Professor Dylan Wiliam of the Institute of Education have found that children in the most effective classrooms will learn in six months what students in an average classroom learn in a year – and students in the least effective classrooms will take two years to learn it. The Institute for Public Policy Research concluded in a recent report that a good teacher could improve a child’s academic performance by more than a grade level. Conversely a poor teacher can have an equally negative effect. Partly its the GTCs fault But it is also a startling fact that local authorities and school governors fail to address the issue of poor teachers and the fear perhaps of the legal consequences of getting rid of them , or possibly just institutional inertia, means that poor teachers largely stay in place damaging the opportunities of pupils in their care.
The General Teaching Council has said in its defence that the systems in place for complaining about poor teachers are “virtually non-existent” in many areas, and that two thirds of local authorities have not made any referrals to it about inadequate teachers in seven and a half years. This is a shameful record given the effects that bad teaching can have on pupil’s attainment and life opportunities. It must be a key priority for any Government.
There is a huge reluctance too from unions to address the issue evidenced by their apoplectic reaction to the suggestion made by Chris Woodhead, back when, that around 5% of teachers might be not up to the job. Sir Cyril Taylor also received the same treatment when he said there may be 15,000 teachers not up to job. It may even have cost him his job as chairman of the SSAT. In any other profession if you made the same 5% claim nobody would bat an eyelid. It isn’t just state schools that are affected, of course. Even in the best of independent schools you will come across poor teachers who have been in their jobs too long. I was told recently by one Headmaster of a leading independent school that in his first three years of headship he got rid of 25% of his teachers who were not up to the mark. And this was a school in the top 250 in the country (its now in the top 100). It needs to be easier to get teachers out of the profession and to identify poor performers so they can get the necessary remedial support. One doesn’t want or need a witch hunt. One needs first to identify poor teachers secondly to either give them help and support or if this is impossible to help ease their exit out of the profession which might require over the longer term a look at more flexible pension arrangements. Some teachers hang in there because the costs of exiting their profession early are too great. But school Heads governors and local authorities must address the issue of poor teachers. They have a duty of care to their pupils and poor teaching inevitably affects their schools overall performance. Unions should also understand that the many good teachers in the profession feel as strongly as parents do about poor teaching and poor teachers and their poor performance undermines the reputation of the profession more generally, so it’s in everyone’s interests to deal with the issue sooner rather than later.