Every school will have a bad teacher children can benefit from: Ofsted speaks out on school standards

This morning the outgoing Head of Ofsted was explaining her approach to bad teachers. She claims today that every school is likely to have a bad teacher, and that some good can come of that. She says she is not recommending they have one.

The BBC gave her a very gentle interview, inviting her to move towards her media critics. She did go on to say that there were too many bad teachers in schools. She told us that this resulted from Head teachers and Governors thinking it was too difficult to remove bad teachers. They feared legal recriminations if they did.

Exactly. So where has Ofsted been over the last decade? Why weren’t they pressing for changes to the law to allow the speedy removal of bad teachers? Children only get one chance of a good education. Why didn’t they go into the schools and help Headteachers by revealing bad teaching in their reports, strengthening the hand of any Head who wanted to make changes?

The single most important issues raised with me in recent years by Heads and senior teachers (“members of the management team” as they are now called) has been this issue of how to deal with teacher quality. I have urged mentoring and teaching the teachers in each school. I have backed Teaching First to get new entrants into the profession who have energy and good qualifications. I have opposed changes to the law that make it more difficult to ask someone to leave who is not doing a good job.

In the private sector companies dismiss the salesman who is not selling or the quality manager who cannot deliver enough first quality product in each batch. Sacking anyone is a sign of failure. It means someone chose the wrong person, or managed them badly. However, it is a necessary evil if you cannot find some other way of putting right the institutional mistake.

I was told recently about one Head who tried to dismiss a poor teacher. It took him six months to go through all the procuedures. He had many a sleepless night worrying, as there was always a fear of a backlash against him for trying to do it. The atmosphere did not welcome taking action to improve.

Today I hope Mr Gove at Education questions will tackle the issue of good and inspiraitonal teaching. More of that can make up for older school buildings, and is an even more important issue than the capital programme. If he has good proposals to tackle the bad teacher problem, and good proposals to remove or improve all the quangos that bestride Labour’s educational bureaucracy, we might start to make some progress towards better education.

Sorting out the budgets should be the easy bit. The sooner he tells which school improvements we are paying for out of taxes the better. The sooner he frees some more money from cutting more of Labour’s unsuccessful bureaucracy, the better.


  1. Norman
    July 12, 2010

    Not one mention of the U word. I wonder how they'll take to all this.

  2. christina sarginson
    July 12, 2010

    Your right children only get one chance at education and a bad teacher can make a lot of difference to their education. My son had a really bad teacher and it has stopped him from leaning since, she told him he would make nothing of himself which is untrue these teachers have such an impact on childrens lives this issue does need to be dealt with.

  3. MikeG
    July 12, 2010


    You do realise that the private sector is subject to the same employment legislation? Yes it takes 6 months to deal with someone who doesn't fit in.

    The difference is, in the private sector it matters enough to take action. In the public sector, I wonder who cares?

    Every firm is constanty striving to improve selection procedures, manouvering through a thicket of equality legislation.


    1. a-tracy
      July 12, 2010

      You beat me to it, I was going to type the same message, well said.

  4. Alan Jutson
    July 12, 2010

    Problem sacking peole who are bad at their job.

    Suggest you look at the Employment Laws which have created the unfair dismissal claim culture, and provided many a legal organisation with millions of pounds of Company/Taxpayer funds, which could have been either saved or reinvested in the business.

    Yes we need employment protection, but as usual we have gone over the top as we look like doing with (new proposals on) maternity pay.

    1. Simon
      July 12, 2010

      It's not just money .

      As far as I can see there is no measure which makes it harder to get wrid of jobs that does not also make it harder to create them in the first place .

      Regulations and red tape are probably a bigger obstacle to creating new jobs than tax levels .

      True job security comes from being able to find another source of income if one comes to an end , there is no substitute for this .

  5. simon
    July 12, 2010

    I was told that classroom assistants are being made redundant as part of cutbacks .

    The public and some in the teaching profession assume that it is coalition policy to cut classroom staff .

    Looks to be an example of public sector managers cutting essential services before backroom bureaucracy in a effort to turn public opinion against cuts – just as someone on this blog said would happen .

    If someone calls themselves a "manager" then they are expected to manage the best they can with the resources which are available and execute organisation policy .

    If they are not "managing" then an instant demotion to a non-management grade is in order , possibly with a final written warning or even dismissal .

    In extreme cases if a person is not performing they should be dismissed , not made redundant .

  6. Alfred T Mahan
    July 12, 2010

    This is not just a problem with teaching. It's almost impossible to sack anyone for poor performance. The employee can take legal action – often with union or other state aid, such as a Citizens' Advice Bureau – for nothing, and yet even in a hopeless case the employer very rarely recovers his costs. Employment Tribunals are biased against the "rich" employers and the law is full of procedural heffalump traps where an entirely sensible disciplinary decision can be held improper for trifling reasons. In addition, there is the appalling situation regarding racial or sex discrimination, where the burden of proof is reversed so that lack of discrimination must be proved – and, as we all know, proving a negative is very difficult.

    Employment law is Britain is no longer fit for purpose. It protects the incompetent at the expense of the employer and, ultimately, society.

  7. Hugh
    July 12, 2010

    The problem is quite simply solved by modifying the relationship between the school and the Local Authority so that the LA acts like an agency. So with adequate notice, say normally one year but one term if there is good cause, any teacher can be returned to the LA for re-assignment or re-training if agreed.

  8. JohnOfEnfield
    July 12, 2010


    Every school needs a bad teacher – for the sake of the pupils. Pull the other one!


    It is difficult to get rid of bad teachers. No it isn't – it might take 6 months or even more – but it can be done. I know several head teachers who have got rid of such teachers – it demands effort & guts but it is part of their job to stand up for the school & its pupils. That's not to say that, in my opinion, the labour laws are far far too biased towards the employee.

    The Head needs the strength of his/her convictions. Most of all they need real power restored to them. They should have the power to remove both unruly pupils and inadequate teachers without having recourse to Local Authorities, The Department of Education (or whatever it is called these days) , The police, OFSTED etc etc. Once they have been given the necessary powers to run the school THEN & only THEN can we (through the governing body) hold them fully accountable for its performance.

  9. StrongholdBarricades
    July 12, 2010

    Maybe what needs to be provided is the training to implement a programme of accountability, and then build in penalties within the Ofsted inspections that allow time for dealing with a problem, but if they are insurmountable then issues need to be managed out of the business

  10. Matthew
    July 12, 2010

    We need to re-introduce fairness into employment contracts.

    In the same way an employee can give notice that they want to leave, the employer needs to have their right to give notice to the employee re-introduced.

    It is never a happy moment to part company with an employee, but with the current set-up, as an employer I will do almost anything *other* than taking on someone new.

  11. Richard1
    July 12, 2010

    Sounds like Ofsted is another Quango we can do without. The root problem is the dead hand of the state. In a state school it is not worth the aggravation to try to remove a bad teacher – you won't get paid any more for doing so or fired for not doing so. The parents can't remove their children as they are obliged to use the designated state school. No choice & competition = bad service, in education as in every other sector. In the independent sector a head who tolerates poor staff will lose his own position, and over time the school itself would be under threat – as no-one in the private sector is owed a living by the state. So the answer is Michael Gove's plan to liberate education from the state through free schools. Its essential he make quick progress with this.

  12. nonny mouse
    July 12, 2010

    Viewed from a private sector perspective, the solutions seem obvious:

    – new hires should be sackable within the first six months for any reason, as part of the employment contract

    – existing employees should be given a written 'notice to improve' stating the areas where they are failing. If, after three months they are still failing in those areas then they can be sacked.

    Three months notice to improve or go seems fair to me. Unions should not be able to complain about it. If they want to strike to protect the useless teachers then just make the terms of the letter public and let public opinion in the form of a vote by parents decide.

  13. Bill
    July 12, 2010

    Yes, but it’s difficult to dismiss anyone nowadays. Taking on an employee is like a marriage contract.

    Comparing arrangements here in the UK to our subsidiary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin it’s very easy to dismiss people. You just have to be directed by any contract that you have with the employee, it usually means paying them until the end of the month.

    The US workers appear to be happy with this arrangement, which together with only a week or so paid holiday in a year, provides job mobility. They often flit between employers for a few bucks a week increment.

    If we were to have such an arrangement here can you imagine the jobs that would evolve? The companies that would re locate here, the job opportunities for the many.

  14. Lola
    July 12, 2010

    What is a 'bad teacher'? Mostly it is thought of as someone who teaches badly. This is not accurate enough. Mrs Lola has taught in the State sector for nigh on 35 years. In every school she has worked in there have been 'bad teachers'. Most of these do some sort of job in the classroom but are useless in other ways. Mostly by playing the system. In other words the State monopoly in education exhibits what you would expect – producer capture. Most of the bad teachers I have seen have the mind set that the education system is there for the benefit of the employment of teachers. They bcome expert barrack room lawyers and work out exactly how to play the system. The management are powerless.

    This is typical of the behaviour of all 'bad teachers' I have obsreved over the years. It is really a failure of structure and management and symptomatic of all Statist providers. The cure is the privatisation of schools. Let the money follow the child and open up the system to competition and remove from teachers the shield of producer capture and the unions.

  15. John Hatch
    July 12, 2010

    The whole state education system has long been infected by marxoid mischief-makers who are bent on destroying our traditional way of life. No one can become, let alone expect a good career as, a teacher unless they submit to the dogma of 'equality and diversity' and all the other ideological baggage of the left. The system is intended to change society, not educate children. The entrenched bureaucrats don't care about illiteracy and innumeracy and the lost opportunities of bright children from poor backgrounds. The truth is so shocking that most people prefer to remain in denial.

  16. John Hatch
    July 12, 2010

    In January 2010, Ofsted produced a report 'Citizenship Established'. I recommend reading paragraph 35.

  17. ric
    July 12, 2010

    What a (foolish person -ed) Zenna Atkins shows herself to be, not just how little she knows about her supposed area of expertise, but how little she understands. Perhaps her unspoken point is that incompetents at Ofsted could be disposed of but that teachers need people like her to test out their skills at getting round the school inspections and assessments.

  18. Kevin Peat
    July 12, 2010

    It's not bad teachers but bad parents that are the real problem – and a huge problem it is because the State subsidises and encourages bad parenting through welfare.

    The national average IQ is being reduced because the stupid are encouraged to breed whilst the intelligent and hard working find the system stacked against them.

    To hound out a relative minority of teachers will do little to quell the amount of classroom disruption caused by children who have useless parents.

  19. Laurence Olivieoil
    July 12, 2010

    Teachers are only half the equation (pardon the pun) – if kids aren't awake, they're not really going to learn anything good. So a good sleep and *gasp* proper breakfast/lunch will do as much for intake and memory of materials as a teacher who doesn't bully/mumble.

  20. James Clover
    July 12, 2010

    In my experience, poor teachers were often given administrative posts (head of year, director of studies etc.). Since this involved sitting in offices or holding meetings- which often took teachers away from their lessons or marking- it naturally attracted considerably larger salaries.
    I've often thought that the whole structure of schools is odd. Pay the people who are doing the job of actually teaching most. Make it superior in status and rewards.
    Those who knock up timetables or count chairs or arrange courses? Mere administrative types- pay 'em less.

  21. Dave Clemo
    July 12, 2010

    Don't they have annual appraisals? When I worked in retail my annual pay award depended on getting a satisfactory appraisal which was a half day face to face interview with my Area Manager.
    But then this is Ofsted you're talking about. Ofsted where bad schools are "adequate"
    There are many ways to raise teaching standards. One way would be to "professionalise" teaching. All teachers to be members of a professional body and bad teachers to be struck off.
    Lawyers and Doctors can be struck off. Why not teachers?

  22. julia
    July 12, 2010

    It's really a more complex matter than it might seem.

    I had a long career as a teacher in Grammar and comprehensive schools. I stayed, as a head of department, at my last school for about 15 years. My head and pupils considered me a good teacher. My head remarked that he could not find a better teacher of my subject.

    The real rot started about 5 years before I left. There was an influx of multiple deputy heads and senior teachers; all full of the latest educational clap-trap, all darlings of the head and govenors (the latter being a collection of rather pompous, self-important individuals) who were in thrall of the newcomers and their ideas (rearranging the staff parking places, having different coloured paper for different years [including blue paper on which the children would write with blue ink!] and countless other trivial matters).

    There were so many distressing experiences but I am unable to write about them here as lengthy explanations would be necessary.

    I soon became the bete-noir of this rediculous management team and my life was made difficult. I left teaching for ever.

    Earlier in my career I had enjoyed teaching in Direct Grant Grammar schools and had the option of teaching in the private sector – including a leading Public School.

    I would advise anyone, thinking of doing so, to avoid teaching in State schools (including the Voluntary Aided ones).

    Reply: There are many good state schools. I do hope more good teachers will wish to teach in state schools. This government wishes to give teachers more power to teach well and exercise their own professional judgement.

    1. julia
      July 13, 2010

      Well this government might wish this – the last one AND previous Tory ones did not.


      1. Julia
        July 13, 2010

        It is said that Mr Cameron is considering (with some anxiety) the problem of where to send his young children for their secondary education.

        It seems that Mr John Redwood might be able to help.


  23. Chuck Unsworth
    July 12, 2010

    Absolutely right. Competency Procedures can be further delayed by prolonged sick leave (often cited as 'stress' induced by those procedures themselves) thus causing considerable costs and disruption to schools. However, before bad teachers can be sacked they have to be identified, then mentored and monitored.

    So you can see that this whole process can take two school years – or longer. In an average class of thirty-five pupils this amounts to seventy pupils being subjected to poor teaching for a whole year each – causing astounding damage to their schooling and future prospects. In the meantime the teacher's more able colleagues will have to remedy the damage and, in a very busy curriculum, also teach their own year's work.

    We really must find a way of resolving these problems more quickly and more effectively. Giving greater autonomy to schools is a good start, and Gove is right to encourage this.

  24. English Pensioner
    July 12, 2010

    I thought teachers were professionals; at least this is what they claim.

    What would they think if, say, the head of the BMA said the same about doctors – "that every practice is likely to have a bad doctor, and that some good can come of that."
    What about other professions – I worked in aviation and would suggest that every airline should have some bad pilots and that every Control Centre/Airport should have some bad Air Traffic Controllers. Somehow I don't thing the concept would find public acceptance, but it seems that with teaching anything goes.

    (Reference to Iain Dale's diary removed as link did not seem to work)

  25. Erikallan
    July 12, 2010

    I think there should be an equivalent of Ofsted to get rid of bad MP's. We seem to have just gained one as a result of the recent election! What about the expenses scandal and the behaviour of the NEW MP's just before the budget vote, binge drinking on cheap booze in the House of Commons! So much for reform in Government. Get your own House in order before pointing the finger at teachers, please!

    Reply: You can get rid of bad MPs once every five years or sooner at a General Election.This government is also going to introduce a recall facility for MPs who have been found guilty of serious wrong doing so constituencies can get rid of such peopel between elections if they wish.
    The MP you are referring to has apologised for drinking into the early hours of the Finance Bill debate. He is by no means the only MP who has liked a drink or two. A well known Lib Dem I seem to remember had a more persistent drink problem, but his electors supported him through it.

  26. Ian Jones
    July 13, 2010

    In the private sector poor workers are simply paid off, its virtually impossible to sack someone for performance.

    Surely the best way would be to have teachers take courses with exams every 5 years which involves classroom reviews. This could then be used to improve their skills as well as root out the bad eggs.

  27. Y Rhyfelwr Dewr
    July 13, 2010

    245 words, but the system won't let me post. 245 words isn't much — I can speak that many in under a minute, so how is anybody supposed to make a worthwhile, well-argued point in less than that? Can you make a worthwhile, well-argued point within a matter of seconds?

    I give up. Don't think I can be bothered any more.

    1. Kevin Peat
      July 14, 2010

      yWell ou just HAVE made a well argued point in under 245 words and in a matter of seconds !

      (The thumbs down is mine btw – no offence intended)

  28. julia
    July 13, 2010

    It is said that David Cameron is worrying about his children's future education in the State sector (of course).

    Blair fudged this question in his usual slimy way.

    It might be the case that John Redwood (see Julia above, about 1 day ago) has expert knowledge which might assist the Prime Minister.

    Reply: Both my children went to state schools. I do not understand your drift.

    1. Julia
      July 14, 2010

      You wrote (in earlier reply) that "there are many good state schools". I wondered how you knew.

      Doubtless there are (throughout the UK) some good state schools – but I believe that these are not typical of state schools in general. [How can they be with 1 good graduate mathematics teacher each (on average) and two-thirds of a good graduate physics teacher?] Blair, after all, found two good (very highly selective) ones.

      The PM was reported recently to be anxious about finding such schools for his children. I suggested that your stated knowledge of these good schools might be of assistance to him.

      The matter was raised by HH during PM's questions this morning and responded to by the PM (like Blair, he seems already to have done some homework).

      Reply: In my area Reading Grammar is, for example, a first class institution which I know well from various contacts with the School.

      1. Julia
        July 15, 2010

        I'm sure it is. Many (state) Grammar schools were (and the few that remain probably still are) – I taught in them and enjoyed it (I took the view in my young and innocent years that the money I was paid for doing so was simply an added bonus to an enjoyable and satisfying job).

        During these years I taught in Lancashire mill and coal towns (1 of each) and it was a pleasure to see highly intelligent children from quite poor homes also enjoying life at the Grammar school; leaving at 18 plus for (real) universities (including Oxbridge, Imperial College, UCL etc.)

        Alas no more. I recall, as you might, that these schools were to be abolished only over the dead body of Harold Wilson. Well Harold passed away, but the Grammars (mostly) predeceased him.

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