Bad teachers in principals’ sights

School Blues

By Justine Ferrari    

Primary school principals have called for a system that would simplify the process of removing underperforming teachers as part of Labor’s policy of granting greater autonomy to schools.

Australian Primary Principals Association president Leonie Trimper said yesterday: "We have to tackle this issue. It’s been around for a long time and frustrates everyone. When we’re talking about high-performing teachers, you do have to look at the other end of the spectrum.

"If we do have teachers in schools who are underperforming, and some just aren’t suitable for a job in schools, then systems have to be put in place to give them alternative placements."

Ms Trimper said the states and territories had different processes for dealing with underperforming teachers.

She said a defined process involving support and training for underperforming teachers was needed, with avenues for the removal from classrooms or the profession if required.

Julia Gillard on Monday released Labor’s policy, Empowering Local Schools, granting greater control over schools to principals and parents.

Under the policy, principals will be given the power to manage their own staffing mix. While the policy is explicit about principals hiring their own teachers, it is silent about the extent of a principal’s power to remove underperforming teachers.

New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, whose reforms have informed the Labor government’s education revolution, applauded the move in Australia to greater principal autonomy.

He said it was "an important step forward" but had to be coupled with strong accountability measures.

"Central bureaucrats can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach to budget and management decisions," Mr Klein said.

When asked whether the government believed principals should be given authority to fire teachers as well as hire them, to replace underperforming teachers with good teachers, Education Minister Simon Crean avoided the issue.

A spokesman for Mr Crean said the reforms were about giving principals more control "to make decisions that get the best outcomes for their students".

"Sacking someone, whether we’re talking about teachers, accountants or shop attendants, is a serious step and appropriate processes need to apply and ensure that poor performance is addressed fairly," he said.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the failure to address the need for principals to be able to fire teachers confirmed the Coalition’s fears that Labor was hamstrung by the teacher unions and states in introducing principal autonomy.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said the employment conditions of teachers and principals were governed by industrial agreements.

"Similarly, there are industrial agreements in place outlining processes that need to be adhered to in taking action against underperforming teachers and principals," he said.

Article from The Australian, August 4, 2010.

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