Gove, Don't just speed up capabilty - Improve it!

By Laura McInerney, LKMco Policy Development Partner

In the coming months Michael Gove is going to speed up the procedure for firing under-performing teachers.  In his speech at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) annual conference his words were carefully chosen: “I will be outlining new measures to manage out of the profession those people who should not be teaching” and a follow-up article by the Telegraph hints towards “more clearly defined rights to access on-the-job training”.

Both of these statements should bring a sigh of relief to the many teachers who worry about their colleagues struggling with the demands of the classroom and failing to teach appropriately.  Though what makes a good teacher can be debated, anyone who works in a school will know that some teachers – for whatever reason – are unable to teach in a way that helps their students progress.

Unless Gove wants ever more battles with the unions, what matters is the form this ‘on-the-job training’ will take.  If the training only provides lip service to the idea of improving teachers then all this policy will do is frighten teachers, pile on the stress, ramp on the level of sick leave and decrease the number of people wishing to enter our profession.  If done right it could be the best way to improve learning for everyone – teachers and students.

Given Gove’s love of looking abroad for examples of policies that work, he would do well to look at the ‘Peer Assistance and Review’ programme available in several US states.  These programmes recruit experienced teachers to work as Consulting Teachers (CTs) who provide 1:1 support for newly-qualified teachers, those identified as under-performing by Heads and anyone else who wishes to self-refer.  Participants on the programme undertake a series of observations and support sessions – at the end of the programme the CT must write a report to the Head providing their opinion on whether or not the teacher should be allowed to continue.  CTs can only work in their role for 2 years and then must return to the classroom as a teacher for a minimum period before re-applying to be a CT.  In this way CTs maintain up-to-date classroom experience and can also apply the skills they learned from being a mentor back in their school.

Providing a struggling teacher with this support is not cheap.  US estimates suggest it would cost £3-6k to support a teacher through the programme.  But in comparison to the cost of putting new teachers through a PGCE and their NQT training plus school recruitment costs of approximately £5k per candidate, it is far more cost-effective to support than to fire, and that’s before you take into account the benefit of experience a reinvigorated colleague brings to their teaching.

Assistance and review programmes may seem expensive but unless Gove wants to find his audiences filled with Heads who increasingly struggle to motivate staff demoralised by watching their colleagues disappear and – at the same time - cannot afford the expense of a recruitment search, then programmes such as this are the only sensible option.

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