Don’t reward failure

Alice Thomson in the Times (14/07/10): “Don’t overpay gifted teachers. Pay off the duds“, starts off well.  She says it’s not the fabric of schools, class sizes, or even “free schools”, but teachers we should worry about.

Referring to Ofsted head Zenna Atkins’ comments about useless teachers being good for children she suggests that having a series of sub-standard teachers is one reason why 20% of children leave school without any GCSE passes.

In America an economist at Stanford University studied 5,000 teachers and concluded that with good ones you got 18 month’s worth of learning in a school year but with incompetent ones only 6 months. And Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Tipping Point” concluded that children were better off in a bad school with an excellent teacher than the opposite.

She also criticises the overpaying of good teachers following revelations about a primary head earning almost £300,000 last year. I agree it does seem an obscene amount given all the other shortages and it included overtime payments. Where else would senior managers or professionals be paid overtime, even in the public sector?

But then we part company because her solution is to pay off the bad teachers – the bed blockers she calls them – with early retirement. She says it is hard to prove they are incompetent so we should bribe them to leave. Because they sap children’s talents and other teachers’ morale. This is wrong in so many ways.

First, education authorities have tried this in the past, giving early retirement to less competent teachers. That’s what saps other teachers’s morale – seeing incompetent colleagues being rewarded for failure while they struggle on.

Secondly, it’s an easy option for (now very highly paid) head teachers who should demonstrate the management and leadership skills they are being paid for and performance manage, and dismiss if necessary, poor teachers rather than give them a reference to move them on to another school.

Thirdly, what kind of message does it send to parents and children? That you can be rubbish at your job and still retire early on a good pension while they struggle to make ends meet in a recession?

Perhaps we should follow the example of other countries and set higher standards for our teachers in the first place. Outstanding organisations know that good performance starts at the recruitment stage. The government could probably do more to support schools that need to weed out incompetent teachers and heads need to earn their money as managers and leaders and deal with the problem.

Isn’t that the least that good teachers and our children deserve?

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6 thoughts on “Don’t reward failure”

  1. I agree, talented teachers are often worth their pay packet (within sustainable levels ofcourse). The teaching profession is a critical component of our society as a whole not least because of their role in developing the next generation of leaders and workers. If this segment is overlooked without the oversight that it deserves it derails the children’s development, both now and in the future.

    There should be a more rigorous testing of standards and competence before teachers become qualified. It may help filter the best from the worst at its early stages, with those not passing the grade given an option for more training to raise their skills.

    To be honest, the state not been clear and consistent in its approach in this regard. The responsibilities must be met by those who set the policies and who wield the influence. Whatever is the case, without the right level of funding and concerted leadership at all levels, this situation is unlikely to improve any time soon.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I used to know lots of teachers, both socially and through working with a Regional Training College, and many of them resisted the idea of having their performance reviewed even though that’s what they were doing with children. I have also worked with new head teachers on their personal development and seen the enthusiasm they brought to their jobs. So now when I hear about these problem I ask myself if it’s the teacher, the head’s leadership, or the education system – including government – which is failing our children. Gordon Brown has been talking this weekend about the importance of supporting education in Africa (partly out of fears that fundamental islamic schools will fill the vacuum if we don’t). Yet his government failed to get to grips with some basic shortcomings in our schools to secure our countries future.

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