Would you sacrifice occasionally excellent for consistently good?

I’d welcome your opinion in relation to this very hypothetical situation:

Imagine you are the Head Teacher of a school with 40 teachers.  In that school there are 10 excellent teachers, 20 very good or good teachers, and 10 weak teachers. 

Excellence = teachers who enable all children to consistently achieve and attain well beyond what might be predicted; the children develop a realistic confidence in their abilities which is matched by their achievements and approach to learning; children are often inspired to continue their learning beyond the classroom situation.

Very good or good = teachers who enable children to consistently achieve and attain beyond what might be predicted; children become confident learners and respond well to the encouragement of their teacher; children make sound educational progress and a have good platform for future learning..

Weak = teachers whose children consistently and significantly underachieve and underattain in relation to what might be predicted; children will often regress in their attitude to learning and attainment; their own confidence is diminished; and their future educational progress is undermined by the experience.

Your Leadership Dilemma

In this imaginary scenario you have the opportunity to transfer 20 teachers from your school and replace them with 20 good teachers – you can only transfer the ten excellent teachers and the ten weak teachers -would you take up the offer of the transfers?

24 thoughts on “Would you sacrifice occasionally excellent for consistently good?

  1. as this is hypothetical I guess I (an NQT) can hypothetically be a HT?

    I would take the transfer as in my mind having ANY weak teachers is not right especially if your description of the weak teacher applies. If a pupil has an excellent teacher one year then a weak teacher the next then it would cancel out the work of the previous year. Best to aim for consistency in my mind.

    Also kids potentials are potentially limitless, ‘good’ teachers will provide a good footing for the kids who can excel.

  2. I agree with Krysia – as the Head your duty has to be to all the children in your school. Giving the 25% of kids who potentially could lose all chance of success, a “good” teacher would be the right thing to do in principle. You then have the (more realisable?) opportunity through good development to take 100% of your staff up to “Excellent”.

    For all of your hypothetical staff and children, success builds success one little success at a time.

  3. I don’t like the way you describe the teachers by the outcomes of their children. Surely if the kids aren’t interested and causing havoc in school the teacher can’t be held responsible? I don’t accept that we have weak teachers such as you describe – we only have weak senior managers who allow and condone bad behaviour in the name of inclusion! I agree with Stephen the Head Teacher should be transferred.

  4. If the management team are also excellent they will surely easily enable all teachers to achieve consistently and attain well beyond what might be predicted; through excellent managers, all teachers including the weak ones will develop a realistic confidence in their abilities which is matched by their achievements and approach to learning; and through excellent managers all teachers, including the weak ones will often be inspired to continue their learning beyond the classroom situation. Won’t they?

    Just like the children in our classes who are, by your implication here, only lacking the right teacher to help them to attain, the weak teachers would no doubt respond positively to such opportunities to refine and expand their skills.

    Actually,to be less ironic, I’d keep the excellent and the weak: a highly motivated set of teachers offers many opportunities for a transformative leadership through collaboration and peer support. I believe everyone can develop given the right context and support and the large number of excellent and good teachers will build within the school a culture of engagement with the learning process which children who meet it will transfer to all classes, enabling them to adapt to whatever weaknesses all their teachers have.

  5. Dorothy

    Thanks for your comment – I’d now be interested in your thoughts on the dilemma from a parent’s perspective.

  6. The implication of your request is that a parent will think differently about a “weak” teacher since their child is potentially damaged by exposure to this person.

    All of my children had for one year of their primary schooling a teacher whom many of his colleagues privately classed as “weak”. The children’s reading was heard on an adhoc basis, and some pages of the maths workbook didn’t get marked or even done. In your terms, he qualified as “weak” on at least 1 count “children…underachieve and underattain in relation to what might be predicted” ie nobody attained a further National Assessment level in his class.

    However, my children and I were delighted by their year with this teacher. He gave them the opportunity to develop all their creative talents; engaged them in projects I could see had involved expressive arts, technology, language, maths, problem solving and social skills; told them stories about local and Scottish history which they never forgot; and took them for walks and expeditions round and about with a disregard for the paperwork of risk assessments that must have raised the HT’s blood pressure. In my view he was an excellent teacher and my children and no doubt others, derived great benefit from the wider sense of attainment that his style offered.

    I guess you will say that this is not the kind of weak teacher you mean, and so I think back to their Secondary School experience and a Maths teacher who for a year, made one child’s life a misery by her sarcasm, humorless aspect and undermining comments, an English teacher who told one child he could not possibly have composed such a competent literature essay himself (he had), a whole department which was so weak and disorganised that children (not mine) had to seek external coaching to attain SQA results.

    You ask whether as a parent I would want these teachers removed from contact with my children. My children were not permanently damaged by these and similar experiences, painful though they were at the time. Their confidence was sufficiently built by other good, excellent and in some cases outstanding teachers in the school for the impact of these weak teachers to be reduced, and for the children to recognise for themselves where the weakness lay. It’s important for children to learn that adults approach children and life with different agendas, and that we don’t all have the same priorities.

    I asked my husband for his response as a parent, in case I was being too influenced by my teacher persona, and he holds similar views. As a business manager himself, he puts the emphasis on the influence of management working with teachers to identify and address areas of weakness.

    We both consider the trade-off of the excellent teacher worth while, since effective management can address the issues of the weak teacher.

  7. Dorothy, I agree whole heartedly with your argument. It is what the child takes from the experience which is important. However.
    If it is the HT’s decision, and (if taking Don’s scenario at face value these weak teachers will always remain weak no matter) does he not have to make his decision based on all children?
    So say a pupil gets one of the weak teachers. Say this pupil has no support from home. Say this pupil cannot seek external coaching. Say the ‘put downs’ of this teacher are exactly what that child needs to make him not care about his other subjects. Say he doesn’t have any of the ‘excellent’ teachers of the school.
    Would the HT not have to ensure consistently ‘good’ across the school so that this one pupil doesn’t ‘slip through’?

    tbh, I’m not sure after hearing your argument. And also as this is a completely unlikely scenario then well….
    What do you think?

  8. I think the transfer part seems unlikely. However, what’s not unlikely is the makeup of the school, given, that is, if everything (and everyone) is relative. I wouldn’t transfer, not for fear of losing my best teachers but for fear of not being able to have an influence on how those teachers are used in their new school.

    Ideally, for what my opinion’s worth ;-), the HT would be thinking (would have thought for a long time) about how to use the excellent teachers to support the work of the weaker ones, bringing them forward in their skillset. Team teaching, teaching larger groups of children with more staff, both of these are good ways of sharing skills and mentoring. The latter even means that weaker teachers don’t feel persecuted by virtue of being (kind of obviously) mentored.

    I saw the latter case in Canada, where three (excellent) teachers taught 70 children. They used each other’s strength’s to teach the different parts of the curriculum, standing back when they felt weaker in another area.

    There’s your answer, perhaps. Are there any such things are wholly, completely, truly roundedly excellent teachers? Don’t we all have strengths and weaknesses that can complement each other or be withdrawn to allow someone else to excel?

    So to answer your question: no, I wouldn’t transfer. But I would be asking myself how I had managed to get so far without considering team work in my school.

  9. Dorothy

    I agree that it is the responsibility of school management to address and work with all teachers to improve the quality of learning – as you know I think it should be management’s central point of focus.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean by:

    “It’s important for children to learn that adults approach children and life with different agendas, and that we don’t all have the same priorities.”

    Are you suggesting that what these teachers/department from your example were doing was acceptable?


    I agree that the transfer situation is unrealistic -that’s why it’s hypothetical- a school should accept the responsibility for helping all teachers to improve. To transfer a teacher whose teaching is weak to another school merely shifts the problem. Note that I don’t use the term ‘weak’ teachers. We are talking about teacher’s practice – not about teachers.

    I think the team approach has enormous potential but only works if the teacher wants to be part of the team and sees a need to improve. The challenge facing us all is to create a culture where people are prepared to actively engage in this process.

    I believe that it is possible (but not easy) for every teacher to improve their practice and that the answer lies in two key elements of the teaching process:

    1. The quality and coherence of the learning tasks set by the teacher.

    2. That all dealings with children are characterised by unconditional positive regard.


    This task may, or may not, be a “Straw Man”. However, the question which underpins the dilemma is a real one – i.e. should a school tolerate such a variance of pupil experience from one classroom to another? This task had it’s roots in a real conversation I had with someone recently who was prepared to accept “weak” teaching as long as it was balanced by “excellent” teaching in the same school.

    Where do you stand?

    The responses received so far have helped me to further develop my own thinking on this matter.

  10. There are weak teachers as there are weak policemen, weak lawyers and weak doctors.

    Actually the dilemma of education is how to deal with them, assuming that extensive support and retraining does not help.

    The nephew of a friend of mine has just spent 18 months training and being assessed in all manner of ways to move from First Officer to Captain’s rank in large commercial airliners. He is in mid career in his late thirties. Now I know we will all be glad that airlines are not just making any old pilot the captain of our holiday flight to Minorca. It is after all a matter of life and death.

    But young people who suffer a poor experience of learning and teaching may nevertheless have their lives blighted. Not quite life and death but almost as bad.

  11. It’s an interesting dilemma, sacrificing potentially achieving excellence for some but leaving behind others who may have the potential I think Ewan’s comments are more the way I would go, keep the excellent teachers and use them and the good teachers to mentor the weak teachers.

    I see at more of a Human Resource Management issue so I wouldn’t take up the offer, but try and deal with the issue of why the weaker teachers are having such influence, rather than opt for a sticking plaster short term solution. However I can see why it would be tempting to a head that has tried every HRM / coaching skill available to raise performance of the weaker teachers.

  12. The problem I have with the scenario is that you are applying a formulaic structure to defining the problem and in doing so framing the solution in a similar way. I’m not aware of a mathematical formula that applies to teachers/schools/education/pupils/parents. Just like there isn’t a formula or algorithm that defines ACfE there isn’t one for the scenario above. Stop trying to apply Operational Research or Systems Thinking to Schooling. Try instead to apply the work of Peter ChecklandSoft Systems Methodology – which is based on a realisation that the real world cannot be easily modeled due to both it’s complexity and variations in Weltanschauung so modeling can only help us understand the complex real world rather than be an accurate representation of it.

    Getting back to the question – it doesn’t matter which option you select (to transfer or not to transfer) – the mistake is to believe that there is a simple solution to the complex situation. Or to believe 10E + 20G +10W 40G

  13. In some ways, trying to improve weaker teaching practice tends to force us away from some of the tenets embraced by current ACE thinking – namely, that we should encourage teachers to look at bold alternatives and take risks with their teaching and learning approaches. Weak teaching practice does not sit well in such an environment. It is often easiest to ensure at least a reasonable experience for pupils with weaker teachers by creating more rigid structures with detailed (I almost said ‘dictated’) lesson plans, resources and assessment methods.

  14. No I certainly don’t think that the way they conducted themselves was acceptable. I suppose I meant that although we would like all teachers to be committed wholeheartedly to the job, we live in the real world where some are not. This means that sometimes you have to make the best of what’s on offer and that is a skill in itself.

  15. Bob

    You introduce an interesting comparator when you use the example of the training your nephew required to gain promotion as a pilot. Flying is a Life-critical system i.e. a mistake will be catastrophic and life threatening.

    Perhaps one of the difficulties we have in teaching is that it’s not quite as obvious if somebody is making a serious error. I’m not talking here about sensible classroom health and safety – where children’s lives could be at risk – but the long term cumulative impact that weak teaching can have on a child – which might be catastrophic for that child.

    Would an airline tolerate having some excellent pilots and some weak pilots?

  16. My own child has just had a ‘weak’ primary teacher, for an entire year, who marked all his written work with red crosses and tore it up in front of him when it was not ‘neat’ enough. I cannot tell you the effect that whole year has had on his view of school and learning, of himself as an effective contributer and on our life at home during this time.
    It’s only now, 4 weeks in to the new school term, that he is beginning to believe that not all teachers are the same.

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  18. The (ex) Chelsea manager was asked on Monday about team selection for what was to be his last game in charge. He gave an amazingly cryptic answer, along the lines of “there are different grades of eggs in the supermarket. I can buy Grade 1. Grade 2 or Grade 3. Depending which eggs, I can make a better omelette”.

    I believe the quality of teaching affects everything we try (a better omelette). I also firmly believe in staff development, to improve, to bond, to give a common purpose, by sharing good practice, team teaching, or swapping for specific topics.

    Jose Mourinho spent obscene sums of money building a football team which did not provide the “best omelette”. While Head Teachers might welcome the idea of fresh blood, I do not believe that importing “good” or “better” teachers in such a whole-scale way is practical and we must work with all staff to make ourselves as good as possible. School – and good teachers – and responsible parents – expect and deserve good/excellent teachers. Now, if the so called “weak” teachers are unable to change in ways which will improve practice, THAT is a REAL issue every HT faces/

  19. Thanks Don

    Maybe Jose was “cracking up”? watch out for copyright – his settlement was only £25M..

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