Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Every school should have one!


An incompetent teacher! Yes, according to Ofsted chief Zenna Atkins. She says; “every school should have a useless teacher so children can learn how to deal with people in authority who are not up to the job”.

She thinks children are adept at exploiting incompetent teachers and they could learn a valuable skill for “playing authority” later in life. She accepts that in business you would get rid of the 10% of staff who are poor performers but doesn’t think that applies to teaching.

A self-proclaimed social entrepreneur who was illiterate at 11 years of age, expelled from school, failed English 3 times and left with 1 O level (she claims to be dyslexic) she was appointed as the chairman of Ofsted in 2006 to beef it up. She said she wanted to get the basics right and that her mission was to get all children to read.

So far so good you might think given how she overcame her own difficulties at school. So what is she talking about now? The now-disbanded General Teaching Council said there were 17,000 “sub-standard” teachers two years ago and they have only managed to get rid of 18 in the last ten years so there are plenty of bad teachers still around, largely due it seems to gutless head teachers who give them references so they can move on to another school.

Children need good teachers to help them achieve their potential and Ofsted should be setting hight standards not accepting that some teachers are rubbish. Atkins is leaving Ofsted to take over as Chief Executive of Gems, the world’s biggest private education company, which intends to set up state funded “free schools”. I wonder how many incompetent teachers they will be recruiting?

Updated 25 November 2010: It seems Zenna Atkins’ new job as Chief Executive of Gems – UK, Europe, and Africa wing, didn’t work out too well. She left after just 7 weeks. She wouldn’t say why she had left or if it was a mutual decision just that she had “quickly realised that the company wasn’t for her” and had not taken any severance pay by choice.

Perhaps they weren’t amused by her ideas about recruiting useless teachers or maybe they realised she was a bit lacking in the formal qualifications department. Anyway she went to work for a new company called Zail aiming to deliver public services using private sector investment in the UK and sub-Saharan Africa. (Not much about Zail on the www apart from her own blogs. Perhaps it stands for Zenna Atkins in limbo?).

Anyway the good news is that the coalition government is getting tough on Ofsted, teacher training, endless re-sits of exams guaranteeing high grades, and, at last, making it easier to get rid of incompetent teachers. Research in the USA suggests that an excellent teacher gets through a year and a half of material in a year compared with poor teachers who only get through 1/2 a year’s worth. In the UK pupils taught by the worst teachers attain GCSE grades at least one grade lower than other pupils.

Updated 21 February 2011: Despite promises it doesn’t seem that much has changed. In the Sunday Times this weekend it was reported that in the last three years only 28 of the 4448,000 working teachers have been subject to hearings. Since January 2008 there have been 78 cases of incompetence reported but there were only 28 full hearings. 8 were struck off, 6 were suspended, 5 were kept on the register and 8 were cleared.

As I posted last July gutless head teachers are giving bad teachers references so that they can be recycled in the system. The article also suggested that local authorities are failing in their legal duty to refer teachers who are dismissed or resign because of incompetence to the General Teaching Council for England (GTC).

The chairman of the GTC, Gail Mortimer, told its governing council; “we know that recycling of teachers below the threshold of competence remains a part of employment practice, even if it has diminished”. Naturally the teachers’ unions weren’t happy about this criticism but looking at the statistics you wonder if they have their heads in the sand.

A number of teachers were named in the article: Maulhalaxmi Weerasinghe appeared before the GTC and was suspended for two years but is now on a government funded scheme to help her get back into teaching; Susan Preston was barred from teaching in secondary school after being found incompetent by the GTC but is now teaching in primary schools; David Foster escaped with a reprimand despite the GTC finding him seriously incompetent and failing to provide leadership as head of department; Bhavin Toprani was suspended for only a year despite being found seriously incompetent.

Education experts have estimated that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 incompetent teachers. One said he thought there were between 5 and 10% totally incompetent and another 20-25% who didn’t care. He also said that unions were expert at dragging proceedings out for up to a year and that teachers being challenged about their competence would go off on sick leave claiming stress or backache.

So no change so far. Incompetent teachers, ineffective regulation, councils failing in their legal responsibility, and gutless head teachers combine to continue to blight children’s futures.

A survey by the TES found that more than 3,000 teachers were subject to formal proceedings but fewer than 10% were sacked or accepted severance payments. And only 10% of that number get reported to the GTC.

Updated 2 May 2011: More on incompetent teachers and badly run schools in the Times Opinion last Week. A reminder about Zenna Atkins stupid comment, and the impact of a US documentary; “Waiting for Superman” which focussed attention in America back on teaching and showed that if you have the right teachers you can stop worrying about classroom sizes and the curriculum.

Malcolm Gladwell, who found that children were better off with a good teacher in a bad school than vice versa, believes that teaching ability is a gift and; ” teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree”. Research at Bristol University confirms this but the government thinks all teachers should have at least a 2:2 degree to apply for training.

And then we come back to those teachers who try to be friends to their pupils or are scared of them. Or, my hobby horse, weak head teachers who fail to show any real leadership, fail to support their staff and undermine their authority – leading to a recent strike by teachers at one school in Lancashire where the head sat ensconced in her office and local councillors came out with a load of PR speak not worth repeating.

The head teacher, Hilary Torpey, has since been suspended by Blackburn with Darwen Council pending a full investigation and an interim head is being appointed. The move was welcomed by the union and the news story generated several blog postings from people who said they knew her in a previous headship role in Skelmersdale and suggesting she was a bully.

BBC News reported (6/9/2011) that Hilary Torpey has resigned to continue her career “elsewhere in education” Given this country’s track record with bad teachers she will probably land on her feet somewhere else.

And the article mentions the unbelievable example of one head teacher, Belinda Langley-Bliss, who boasted about the size and firmness of her breasts on Facebook just after introducing a new disciplinary regime at Wilmington Enterprise College in Kent. As a result teachers in Kent were sent a letter asking them to close down Facebook and similar social networking accounts as individuals have no control over information once posted.

Updated 24 December 2012: And yet another teacher falls foul of Facebook. This time DebbieJohnson, a primary school head in Hull, has quit her job along with another teacher Nyanza Roberts after posting comments about her pupils on her Facebook page saying “no wonder  everyone is thick … inbreeding must damage brain development”. There might be an element of truth in what she says but hardly the kind of comment to foster good school-parent relationships.


Author: mikethepsych

He says he's a psychologist but aren't we all?