How many teachers are placed on teacher support plans or capability procedures each year?

It is an interesting question as surprisingly there is no national centralised data available on the number of school staff this impacts.

According to our own data at Edapt, we can see that during the pandemic fewer subscribers contacted us about being placed on capability procedures. In 2019 (pre-pandemic), 7% of our casework was on the topic of capability and teacher performance. 

However, in 2020, this reduced to just 2% and increased to 6% during 2021. Currently 9% of our cases in 2022 are on the topic of teacher capability and many non-subscribers contact us after they have been placed on a teacher support plan and are unsure of how to proceed.

Potentially, schools and senior leaders were unable to instigate capability procedures during the pandemic and were more focussed on the operational functions of running a school, delivering online learning and social distancing guidelines. When teachers have physically returned to the classroom over the last 18 months we are seeing a return to the pre-pandemic levels of subscribers contacting us about teacher capability.

The topic of capability and teacher support plans can be confusing and distressing for school staff. Many of our subscribers who contact us are taken completely by surprise and many are unaware of what the potential ramifications are.

In the past, it has been seen as a tactic for schools to target costly staff with previous surveys from teaching unions suggesting it disproportionately affects older members of staff. 

With the impact on HR time, cost, teacher retention and wellbeing, how pervasive is the issue of teacher capability in schools and is it culturally unique in the education sector compared to other professions?

What is a teacher support plan?

Teacher support plans can differ in content, name and structure. They are meant to be a supportive and developmental tool and will include a number of objectives which teachers will have to meet within a set time frame. We refer to an example of one in our support article.

Ultimately, if the targets are not achieved by the end of the time frame and you are placed on formal capability, there is risk of a dismissal.

It is difficult to determine a national picture of staff impacted as schools do not have to report to a central body such as the Department of Education (DfE), Teaching and Regulation Agency (TRA) or Ofsted. 

Maintained schools only have to inform the Local Authority (LA) when the teacher is dismissed due to capability issues, this is set out in the School Staffing (England) Regulations 2009

In academies, there is no requirement with notifying a body or organisation when a member of staff is dismissed due to capability (the model funding agreement for academies does not include any details on this topic).

It is important to note that the vast majority of staff will not reach the stage of dismissal when placed on a teacher support plan or capability. Depending on the case, teachers will either meet the targets set and come off the support plan, might decide to raise a grievance against the school and exit the school through a settlement agreement or resign before being placed on formal procedures.

How do capability procedures impact on teacher references? 

The School Staffing (England) Regulations 2009 outlines that only maintained schools or academies may receive capability information upon request. 

It explains that your school is obliged to disclose capability procedures if it is a maintained school (ie a community, voluntary controlled, community special, maintained nursery, foundation, voluntary aided or foundation special school) and if the disclosure request has been made by another maintained school or academy. 

As part of the appointment process for school staff, the DfE recommends that schools ask previous employers for details about whether the individual has been subject to capability procedures in the previous 2 years.

Schools are not required to mention capability procedures that occurred more than two years ago.

Maintained schools and academies will be entitled to be advised in writing if a teacher has been the subject of capability proceedings in the past two years and, if so:

  • The concerns which gave rise to the capability proceedings
  • The duration of the proceedings
  • The outcome

Essentially, if you are placed on formal capability it can have a major impact when trying to secure employment at another school.

Is capability an issue which disproportionately affects school staff?

The issue of staff capability and performance does seem to be a more prevalent issue in schools compared to other workplaces such as local government, the police force or the NHS.

Facebook groups such as ‘Life After Teaching: Exit The Classroom and Thrive’ (with 68,800 members) and even forums such as MumsNet have regular discussion threads with teachers being placed on capability and support plans. Also these are just the teachers who are speaking out, there will be a silent majority who will feel too embarrassed or upset to publicly speak out online about what had occurred.

Even conducting a quick Google search for capability policies brings up more results for schools and universities compared to, for example, social care and NHS trusts.

The DfE has published its teacher appraisal and capability model policy for schools. It explains:

“If a teacher demonstrates serious underperformance, and has not responded to support provided within the appraisal process, the teacher will be notified in writing that the appraisal system will no longer apply and that their performance will be managed under the capability procedure.”

The concept of ‘underperformance’ can be particularly challenging in schools where school staff will feel they have been set unrealistic targets which can be very difficult to achieve and set outside of their control.

All employees in different sectors and roles will have a range of targets and criteria where they will be assessed by results and can be dismissed for persistent underperformance. However, how often do we see publicly funded roles such as senior civil servants or MPs being dismissed from their roles due to ‘underperformance’?

The issue of capability is certainly a hot topic with many complexities to it, and that is why it is so important that school staff can access professional support from an organisation like Edapt to assist if they are placed on capability procedures.

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