Sunday, 15 January 2012

Turning a negative into a positive

So Michael Gove wants to make it easier to sack bad teachers. At first glance, this is an excellent idea that any sensible person would support. But when I start to delve into the definition of bad teachers, I start to worry. Whatever your views on unions, or employment law, everyone can agree it’s imperative that ‘bad’ is measured objectively.

Performance management is all about setting goals to and benchmark and develop an individual’s performance at work. Modern HR methods use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound) targets. For a teacher, a target might be to increase the numbers achieving A* to C in their particular subject, or to run a school project or school trip that improves learner achievement or personal development. It may be to increase the numbers going onto A level. These are all SMART targets that would be acceptable to include in a performance management review.

But if they don’t do this, does this make them ‘bad’? What is the definition of a bad teacher? Bad GCSE grades? Inability to control students? Gross misconduct? The first can be affected by a number of factors, of which teaching is just one. The second can be improved upon with training and professional development. And gross misconduct already carries its own penalties. I still can’t see enough detail in the plan to reassure me that this proposal will not lead to unfair dismissal cases. And what about all the non-teachers that are encouraged to lead the education of children in free schools. How will they be assessed and disciplined?

What concerns me most of all is the Government’s critical line on teachers. Repeated headlines about bad teaching, underperforming schools and a failing education system repeatedly undermines teachers doing an extremely difficult job. The suggestion that someone can come in off the street and teach successfully without training or experience in a free school is even more worrying. Parents and students read the Internet, read newspapers and the frequent use of negative adjectives with regard to teachers and schools is working its way into their subconscious. The best thing Michael Gove and his colleagues could do is start using some positive and encouraging language about our educators. This would give them confidence and encourage them, allowing them to concentrate on the job in hand – education.