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‘We have lost faith in those who review public services’

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Last week it was announced that there were 17,000 underachieving teachers in England and Wales. They are apparently messing about in class and not paying attention and this is damaging the education of 400,000 children. We would, it appears, be better off if we got rid of them. There are plans to transfer the offending would-be educators into electrical retail. Or pizza delivery. That’ll teach them.

Last week it was announced that there were 17,000 underachieving teachers in England and Wales. They are apparently messing about in class and not paying attention and this is damaging the education of 400,000 children. We would, it appears, be better off if we got rid of them. There are plans to transfer the offending would-be educators into electrical retail. Or pizza delivery. That’ll teach them.

Sacking teachers who can’t teach is a relatively new approach. When I was at school, if they identified a rubbish teacher they simply got them to teach woodwork or geography. Or they promoted them, putting them in charge of school inspections or made them deputy head. Not any more. Apparently all deputy head posts are full.

I wonder who is going to replace them. Perhaps there are 17,000 brilliant teachers in a large warehouse somewhere honing their whiteboard skills but I doubt it. Maybe there will be a massive recruitment drive – after all who can fail to be attracted to a profession that has just sacked 17,000 people?

When they have sorted out teaching – and one can’t help thinking the teaching unions may want a quick word before they start handing out the redundancy letters – I wonder who they will come for next.

One hopes it is the psychologists but you can’t say that can you? Anyway, call me oversensitive but, if you want large groups of public workers to review and you’ve done teachers, maybe nursing might be next.

The idea of underachieving nurses is delicate. On one hand, any ‘attack’ on the standards of practice of poor nurses can feel like an attack on the profession. On the other, we have all worked with nurses who aren’t very good, haven’t we?

Imagine if a government health official announced there were 20,000 underachieving nurses who should be sacked. Will you think ‘hurrah, at last we can get rid of the lumbering oaf who is always late, always makes the patients wince with fear and who thinks a clinical update is when you put a new calendar in the sluice room’? Or will you think ‘I don’t trust the powers that be to know good from bad.’

The problem with any review is the amount of faith we have lost in the reviewers. Nurses – and I’d guess teachers might feel the same – have modernised, met targets and reorganised services only to find that, at the first glimpse of trouble, money is cut, jobs are lost and services are sacrificed.

Nobody wants to employ a bad teacher or work with a bad nurse but, if we are going to clear out underperforming professionals, can we not get rid of less visible and often untouchable executives, policy-makers, advisers, politicians and civil servants as well? It’s harder to see what they do or judge if they do it well but, if we want to express our commitment, we should surely apply it to everyone. Only fair isn’t it?

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