I'm not the world's biggest Michael Gove fan. I find him and his policies to be ideologically flawed, divisive and fundamentally dangerous to our free, non-profit making, education system. However, on the issue of tackling underperforming teachers, he has got it right. Well, he's almost got it right. It's this 'almost' part that will leave many teachers wondering, why stop with teachers? If their under or poor performance is a quickly sackable offence, then what about Mr Gove himself?
There still seems to be a public perception that teachers have it easy. That our days begin at 9 and end at 3:30; that we have all those holidays while the rest of the country slaves away. This perception is incorrect and out of date for the vast majority of teachers working today. However, there are teachers that the misconception can be levelled at. It is these teachers that I think Michael Gove is trying to deal with.
Every school has that teacher that comes into school, misses the morning briefing, fails to show up for their duty, misses report writing deadlines, moans about new initiatives, has a couple of days off a term, does little planning and leaves school on the stoke of 3:30. All teachers can identify which one it is in their school (if you don't know who it is in your school, then it might be you). Up until today it has been very difficult to get rid of these types of teacher. In this instance, I use the term 'teacher' loosely.
Taking a positive outlook on this announcement is what the vast majority of teachers should be doing. There are real positives to be taken from this. By allowing head teachers the freedom to remove long term, poorly performing teachers, they will be able to bring new life to the teaching body.
The best schools I have worked in are the ones that have had a good mix of teachers; both experienced and inexperienced teachers working together, sharing good practise and new ideas. Granted, it won't just be experienced teachers that will be affected by these new powers but it's fair to assume they will feel the greatest effect. If we do see more young teachers filling the void then that too is a positive. Youth in any walk of life, while bringing inexperience, also brings vitality.
There are of course obvious negatives to this announcement and the unions, as you would expect, are up in arms about these new powers. They have every right to be concerned as there are some real issues that need to be ironed out. It won't take long for the unions to argue that the new policy will leave head teachers with the power to hire and fire at will. By naming these powers 'a bully's charter', they are already suggesting that, if your head teacher doesn't like you, then they can now find a way to remove you.
They have correctly raised the issue of timing. What is the 'timeline of incompetence'? If a teacher is awarded with an outstanding observation, how long will this count for? This year the teacher may have received an inadequate observation but in the previous year an outstanding one. Has that teacher suddenly become poor? More detail is clearly needed on these key points.
The biggest problem that Michael Gove has is one of his own making and typical of his tenure thus far. He is trying to convince an already alienated work force that these plans are a good thing. After all, working in a school is very difficult and it is made harder by having to pick up the slack of under or poorly performing teachers.
However, he has chosen to announce these plans in the same week that schools have been told to expect no-notice inspections and ICT teachers have been told that their lessons are 'harmful & dull'. I'm not even going to mention the 'P' word. Gove should have waited before announcing these changes, the fact that he didn't, means that teachers are reluctant to acknowledge the positives that these changes will bring. The fact that he didn't wait highlights why so many teachers are angry. The light of underperformance has once again been shined on teachers, a light that casts a heavy shadow over the hard work and outstanding practise that most teachers offer daily.
These powers could be seen as outstanding but by announcing these changes now, Michael Gove has unfortunately shown, once again, that his performance as minister for education has been inadequate as a whole. Using his own criteria on underperformance, there aren't many teachers that wouldn't want to see his plans applied to him.
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