Education Sector to be given more Powers to Remove Under-Performing Teachers
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has announced new powers that will allow head teachers to effectively remove an under-performing teacher within a term. The new measures are considered to be in response to growing criticism of the fact that current procedures have only seen 17 employees struck off in the past decade.
Under current procedures it can take a period of a year, or longer, to remove a teacher for underperformance. This has seemed to leave most head teachers without the will or perseverance to see these protracted procedures through to a conclusion. In addition, it has become common practice in the education sector for underperforming teachers to simply move from school to school in order to avoid any potential sanction which would originate from their underperformance.
To address this situation, Mr Gove’s first port of call was to provide for a more truncated procedure that would allow under-performing teachers to be managed out of schools in a way similar to procedures currently used in the private sector. In addition, there is currently a limit of three hours teaching time in which a teacher can be ‘observed.’ Mr Gove has signalled his intention to scrap this limit. A further proposal will see teachers assessed against a set of key skills known as ‘Teacher’s standards.’
In addition, the Department of Education is also consulting on proposals that would place a duty on schools to share information on whether or not a teacher has been investigated for underperformance. The duty would only arise if the information is requested. This is with a view to stopping the practice whereby underperforming teachers move from school to school to evade the repercussions of their failure to teach to an acceptable standard.
Unsurprisingly the unions and teachers’ groups are upset by the new measures. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The changes to the appraisal and capability policies will rightly be seen by teachers as an attack on their professionalism and will anger and depress them in equal measure."
In order to address these concerns, Mr Gove has attempted to reassure teachers that they can take comfort in the fact that despite the new measures being designed to support an easier method by which they may be dismissed, they would nonetheless be protected by current employment law. Mr Gove reminded teachers that protection exists to ensure that dismissals for underperformance are genuine and any dismissals which are borne solely of a headmaster’s personal dislike of a teacher, or even based on prejudice, can be challenged in the employment tribunal.
While the proposals may send a shiver down an under-achieving teacher’s back, the impact will not be as great as they might fear. Whereas the above reforms will be new to the education sector, capability has been long established as a potentially fair reason to dismiss an employee. However, despite it being a possibility to dismiss an employee for capability, figures show that as recently as 2008 some 80% of private firms admitted to having problems with performance issues and yet only 8% claimed that their policies and procedures were adequate enough to deal with the problem. This is because the main issue with a performance dismissal is the fact that the process must operate as a corrective measure rather than a punitive one. It is therefore designed to ensure that the individual subject to it is given every possible opportunity to improve before they suffer the ultimate sanction.
For a dismissal to be considered fair for capability, the employer should be able to demonstrate that it has acted reasonably and given the individual employee all the support, encouragement and supervision he or she requires in order to succeed.
For example, a typical performance management policy will consist of three stages in which an underperforming employee is progressed from a written warning to a final written warning and then to dismissal depending on their progress. At each stage the employee should be provided with clear targets and requires to be given every opportunity and assistance to succeed.
Underperforming teachers should take heart in the fact that even though the new proposals will cut the amount of time it will take for their futures to be decided, the fact that current employment law requires performance management procedures to be extensive and conscientious, means that they will still be given every chance to succeed and improve. As Mr Gove says, should an educational body fail to abide by a fair performance management procedure, it may well find itself in Tribunal defending an unfair dismissal claim.