Hugh Reilly: Classroom duds take a fall for management
LAST week, to the cheers of the baying anti-teacher mob, the latest incompetent teacher was carted off to the General Teaching Council Scotland for career execution.
However, on the road to his professional perdition, i.e. a fitness-to-teach disciplinary hearing, Alan Buchanan, a maths teacher at Glasgow’s Rosshall Academy, opted to be tried in absentia and without legal representation. His non-appearance did not halt the show trial’s proceedings. Like Clint Eastwood’s conversation with an imaginary-seated Barack Obama, witnesses were brought forth to denounce the empty chair of the AWOL accused. Despite particularly fierce cross-examination and the threat of being held in contempt, the chair stubbornly maintained its right to silence.
According to the prosecution, Mr Buchanan’s teaching weaknesses were manifold: unsatisfactory communication with pupils, poorly structured lessons, failure to issue sufficient homework, high levels of pupil indiscipline and the fact that his classes’ attainment compared badly with those of similar classes. With such overwhelming prima facia evidence of incompetence, a question bubbles up: why was this individual ever accepted into the teaching profession?
Assuming he is a holder of a post-graduate teaching qualification (as is the case for most secondary school teachers), a college of education must have deemed him to be a suitable person. A college tutor would have sat in on several “crit” lessons and evaluated the student teacher’s abilities. In addition, while on teaching practices to various schools, the heads of maths departments would have compiled reports on Mr Buchanan’s classroom performance. In my opinion, it is inconceivable, that concerns were not raised at the embryonic stage of his career. That he was let loose on kids is an indictment of the incompetence of the profession’s gatekeepers who trained him and assessed him.
To be fair, other management incompetents are also in the dock. Mr Buchanan was initially employed at the academy on a job-share basis in 2003. Some five years later, despite concerns over his attendance, he was appointed to a full-time, permanent post. Call me unhelpful, but if underperforming Sir had a problem turning up for work, was it not a tad bizarre to add him to the pay roll?
And here comes the point in this whole crazy episode, when only the taking of hallucinogenic drugs will allow the reader to make sense of the decisions made by the school’s management; all the charges levelled at Mr Buchanan occurred from November 2008 until he was sacked in 2010. That is to say, his incompetent behaviour, allegedly, started almost immediately after he was the recipient of a full-time position. According to the evidence given by the then headteacher, Rachel Renwick, and her former deputy headteacher batman, Adam, oops, Douglas West, the school received 17 letters of complaint from parents during this period. Am I alone in thinking that Ms Renwick and Mr West share some culpability?
Local authorities and the GTCS appear to regard incompetence as the monopoly of classroom teachers. In my view, efforts to rid the classroom of poor teachers are hampered by the refusal of education directorates and the GTCS to initiate disciplinary action against members of school management who permit classroom Failed Ones to prosper.
If those in senior promoted posts thought that their careers were on the line, they might be incentivised to be somewhat more proactive in amassing the proof required to sack incompetent staff. Under the present “light-touch” approach, many headteachers are reluctant to confront inadequate teachers for fear of antagonising unions or poisoning staff/ management relations. The lack of action by councils against incompetent school management teams flies in the face of their own policies. For instance, in its Circular 11 submission to the local negotiating committee for teachers, Glasgow City Council states that: “Members of staff who hold posts of responsibility have a key role in monitoring the quality of education provision … sound performance at management level is essential if pupil achievement is to be maximised.”
Unless incompetents higher up the chain are brought to book, weeding out classroom duds will continue to be a messy business.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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