Michael Gove obviously lacks a sense of irony. He complains that it is too hard to dismiss underperforming teachers while occupying a position where the ‘red tape’ of dealing with underperformance is virtually impossible to penetrate – the only way to get rid of underperforming Cabinet ministers (not to mention MP’s) is to rely on the whim of the Prime Minister or else wait an average length of 4 -5 years before summary dismissal can take place.
‘Bad performance’ is the kind of thing that everybody is against and its impossible to be for; that is why when changes of this nature happen it is always the pretext trotted out. The real issue however is what you do about it. Firstly, I have to say that the horror stories the media manage to unearth are obviously not a-typical and are not particularly relevant. One student I heard on the local radio station agreed that some teachers were bad and one had “locked a student in a cupboard”. Obviously unacceptable and actually abusive behaviour to be sure but are you seriously telling me that there is no mechanism to have that teacher instantly dismissed?
Gove’s proposals beg a question. Would we want to write pupils off who were serially underperforming by simply expelling them in the quickest, most expeditious manner possible? Of course not. Rather all possible avenues would be explored to make sure they perform to the best of their abilities. Having a tick-box and instantly gratified approach to performance is symptomatic of a wrong-headed cultural ethos – everything about education seems to be about ticking the correct boxes, not developing people and enabling them to think for themselves as opposed to teaching them what to think.
Sure, there will be some teachers who will not be capable of improvement and are in the wrong career – however, rather than face the sack and then consignment to the scrap-heap they need to be removed from their position and then assisted to re-tool themselves for a more appropriate career. The culture of ‘fire first, ask questions later’ might offer us one clue as to why long-term unemployment is a serious issue. Is it any wonder we have so many people are trapped in enduring unemployment when the state’s attitude itself is focus not on enabling people to thrive but merely be concerned with whether they meet its arbitrary criteria of capability? Christine Blower is right when she says these proposals could become a bully’s charter, they could be a weapon used by Headmasters to enforce their own dominion not just against the ‘incapable’ but also against the unorthodox and people they simply don’t like. I am thinking right now of Dead Poets Society, a film where a perfectly capable teacher is victimised and eventually forced out for daring to be different.
Our priorities are wrong when we focus on the solution to underperformance being the instant (or as close as possible to instant) dismissal of those falling short of the mark. Teaching especially is a highly skilled profession which requires years and training and study etc, so, to be cast out of that would shatter a life and give the person in question real issues with employability later down the line. Gove’s Victorian values are not what this countries modern education system needs – like everything else this government proposes they respond to the challenges of the modern world with half-baked solutions that are not fit for the purpose they are intended to serve.