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Did you see Panorama?

I have been meaning to share my thoughts on last week’s Panorama about incompetent teachers.

The issue is one I can relate to. I have watched as headteachers I have worked for have put colleagues I work alongside through ‘competencies’. I remember dreadful teachers whose classrooms I had to endure, including one who gave an essay I had written a ‘P’ because it wasn’t good enough for a ‘real’ grade.

It seemed that there were two key ideas in the program which I thought were never really pulled apart. There was the issue of identified, incompetent teachers being dealt with, and the much more subjective issue of what exactly constitutes an incompetent teacher.

The whole issue is highly emotive. We all want our children to be taught by good teachers and certainly, they deserve to be. People who are unable or unwilling to work towards this have no place in schools and ought to peruse a more suitable career choice. Those who don’t, need to be dealt with by their headteachers. The headteachers in the program who complained that the competencies process is too difficult were, in my opinion, as bad as some of the incompetent teachers. I don’t know the system but I have seen how effective it can be. Difficult does not mean impossible. Headteachers ought to have the savvy to be able to make it work and the application to lobby for it to be simplified. I think laying the blame at the door of the GTC was shortsighted.

All of this remains entirely hypothetical, of course, until the incompetent teacher has been identified and the program was very loose around pinning this down. For the first half of the program, it seemed that parents were deciding what incompetent meant. Parents are critically important to successfully educating a child. Their involvement in learning, their encouragement and support their values and ideals are all key ingredients in our joint success. As stakeholders they should have a voice and influence in a school, however they are not the right people to be making decisions about whether a teacher is incompetent.

Crucially, my first question would be, had the parents who were interviewed, watched the teacher teach? If not then I believe the entire discussion stops there. How can any judgement be made without seeing the teaching? The child of course, will have an opinion which is influencing the parent and this opinion is valid and important, however it could only ever form one part of a case against an incompetent teacher.

Secondly, parents, like all adults, will hopefully have had positive experiences of education at some point in their life. The tendency is for an adult to look back at an inspirational teacher they had and believe that this is what all teachers should be like. While there may be some value in examining what made that teacher so inspirational, it does not stand up to the development of the profession and the way in which the children of today are so different to any generation before them. What we know about learning, and what children need have moved on tremendously in recent years and this must be taken into account.

It is wrong to say that parents do not know what makes a good teacher of course, as they themselves are educators and have rich experiences skills and ideas that we should all learn from. However in terms of a judgement of professional standards it is up to the profession to require the highest standards of itself. We should have a pride in the standards we expect of ourselves that in itself confronts incompetency.

I doubt very much that we have heard the end of this but in the mean time, I would appreciate your comments!

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