Some blame the GTC but lack of referrals limits its ability to act


A just published study by the General Teaching Council and the DCSF seeks to explore the factors that affect referral of incompetent teachers to the General Teaching. The General Teaching Council for England is the independent professional organization for teaching in England.

It claims to work for children, through teachers, in the interests of the public. Its remit includes keeping a register of qualified teachers in England and setting out and enforcing standards for the teaching profession, in the interests of the public. The remit includes providing advice to government and other agencies on important issues that affect the quality of teaching and learning, and a duty to raise the standing of the teaching profession. The Council’s work includes consideration of cases of registered teachers whose standards of conduct or competence are alleged to have fallen below accepted minimum standards. It is a legal requirement for employers to refer to the GTC any employees that have been dismissed on grounds of capability or have resigned where dismissal would otherwise have been a possibility

Ten years ago Chris Woodhead, then Chief Inspector of Schools, said that 15,000 teachers were incompetent. Despite a series of ministerial initiatives and the establishment of the General Teaching Council (GTC), Sir Cyril Taylor, once the Government’s senior education adviser, in 2008 put the number even higher at 17,000. Both estimates caused outrage from unions but only represented slightly less than 5% of the workforce.  However, many believe that at less than one teacher per school, the true figure may be much higher. Certainly the failure to identify and deal with poor teachers and teaching does nothing to help the drive to raise the status of the profession on the one hand, nor improve outcomes, a key government priority, on the other.

There are over 430,000 teachers countrywide. In the last nine years only 13 teachers have been struck off for incompetence. Among the councils that haven’t made a single referral in the last 10 years are Hackney, Haringey and Islington.  The GTC has been criticized as ineffective in tackling incompetence. It counters, plausibly, that it is not getting referrals from schools and local authorities. This is where the real blame lies. Why its not getting referrals is a key question this study seeks to answer.  Incompetent teachers seem to  escape punishment, the report suggests, because heads consider the profession’s disciplinary body “pointless” and its systems of suspending or banning teachers from the workforce are “inappropriate”, It suggests that there  appears to be confusion among Heads  about when it is appropriate to refer teachers  and adds that  the lack of referrals is caused by “frustration” at how long the process can take, and the reluctance of Headteachers to take “severe” action. Critics say GTC cases fail to improve the performance of those who are incompetent and have a negative effect on other teachers. And participants with experience of making a referral thought that it took too long for the GTC to hear a case and that they were not always kept properly informed about the progress and outcome.

School governing bodies are required by law to have a set of procedures for dealing with staff capability issues. It is a legal requirement too for employers to refer to the GTC any case where the employer has ‘ceased to use a registered teacher’s services on grounds relating to professional incompetence’, or ‘might have ceased to use a registered teacher’s services on such a ground had the registered teacher not ceased to provide those services’. This responsibility falls to the legal employer – either the governing body or the local authority. But  in practice very few teachers are identified by schools as incompetent.

The main findings of the survey are as follows:

• A range of barriers, including unreliable evidence, the nature of working relationships between teachers, senior managers and head teachers, and uncertainty about what constitutes a performance issue, have the potential to cause some performance issues to stall in the system and prevent others that could be appropriate for referral to the GTC from reaching a capability procedure.

• Schools appear to escalate different types of performance issues at different points in the performance management process. There also exist potential disincentives to escalation, such as the perceived complexity of the procedures and their associated burden, and the potential impact upon the teacher’s well-being and future career.

• The perception that capability procedures duplicate the support provided through the performance management system, that the procedures are disciplinary rather than supportive, and union pressure on head teachers could all delay or prevent the use of capability procedures.

• There is variation in the timetables and formality of different stages of capability procedures amongst local authorities. This flexibility in applying the procedures is designed to account for the particular nature of each case; however, it can affect the consistency of application and, therefore, the consistency of referrals to the GTC.

• A number of outcomes can cut short the capability procedures – teachers may choose to

resign or unions may advise a compromise agreement – and this reduces the number of cases not showing satisfactory improvement that reach a point in the procedures at which a referral to the GTC might be considered.

• There is variation in understanding about when a referral should be considered, which suggests that there may be appropriate cases that are not referred to the GTC. Similar uncertainty over who is responsible for making a referral could also prevent cases from being referred.

• There is evidence that employers find it difficult to judge the severity of a case and, consequently, feel unable to judge whether a case that ends in resignation or compromise agreement would have been serious enough for dismissal to have been considered.

Participants in this study thought that cases might not be referred in these circumstances.

• Two opposing views on the outcomes of the regulatory procedure exist, both of which could deter individuals from making incompetence referrals. Where the GTC is thought to ‘have no teeth’, referral to the GTC is felt to be pointless; equally, referral is also felt to be inappropriate where it is understood that the only outcomes are disciplinary.

There is inconsistency as to when the local authority is notified of or involved in a case of concern about a teacher’s performance, and different stakeholders hold divergent views about whether this involvement should come earlier or later.

The report says that there is a need for clearer guidance about the responsibilities of governors and head teachers to inform the local authority of appropriate cases, and for local authorities to ensure this guidance is utilized. This   it says could be achieved through the revision of training for governors and head teachers in local capability procedures, of local policy guidance, and of guidance to accompany model procedures.

So there is a need to revisit the guidance about referral. There is no universal awareness it transpires  of where the responsibility lies for referral of a case to the GTC, and the current guidance is seen to be insufficiently specific about the trigger(s) for referral. The report suggests that the GTC could consider revisions to this guidance, such as linking the point of referral more clearly to completion of specific stages of informal and formal support or giving more specific instructions about how to deal with teachers who resign before or during a local capability procedure. Crucial here are examples of the kind of capability issue that should be considered so serious that the GTC should be informed even if the person resigns.

Clearly some incompetent teachers are dealt with by the school and given the support they need to improve their performance up to the required level. But there will always be some teachers for whom such remedial action is either not appropriate or, when tried, it doesn’t work. They should clearly be removed from the profession .Much more often than not this is clearly not happening and they are moved from one school to another damaging pupils  chances of a good education  in the process  and it is a longstanding  problem.

The situation is now so bad that Heads even write good references for incompetent teachers to avoid long GTC cases and to speed up their departure from the school.(moving them around the system).  The study found that unions, Ofsted and the Training and Development Agency for Schools are not “certain” the GTC is raising teaching standards and the credibility of the profession.  Unions may whinge about the GTC failing to raise the professions status but pots and kettles spring to mind here. How can this status be raised when Union leaders tolerate significant numbers of incompetent teachers in their ranks. When push comes to shove they will put the job security of their members before the interests of children.

Ever since the well known Sanders and Rivers (Tennessee) report was published in 1996, we have known that the  quality of teaching or teacher effects, estimated using student test score trajectories, reliably predict student outcomes at least two years into the future. Teachers have persistent effects on their students’ achievement and the accumulation of these effects can be substantial. Indeed Sanders and his colleagues published another paper claiming that teachers are the most important source of variation in student achievement. (Wright, Horn, and Sanders, 1997).Professor Dylan Wiliam of the Institute of Education has also delivered research with fairly similar findings on the significant effects of good and bad teaching on pupil performance and outcomes.

It is extraordinary that this problem has been allowed to persist, particularly given that poor teaching acts as a drag anchor on improving outcomes which is a Government priority and may go some way to explaining why significant investment has failed to deliver the expected returns.  It is self-evidently in all stakeholders’ interests, including teachers, to address this problem in the short term  Report

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