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Acas to act as teacher judge;News;News amp; Opinion

THE Scottish Executive is to call in Acas, the arbitration service, to help heads and education authorities identify and deal with incompetent teachers.

The announcement was made yesterday (Thursday) by Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, in a speech to the annual conference of secondary heads and deputes in Crieff.

The Inspectorate has been investigating how authorities handle disciplinary matters and its report, Meeting Professional Standards, is to be issued shortly. Mr Galbraith told the Headteachers' Association of Scotland that HMI has concluded that "steps should be taken to improve the efficiency of disciplinary proceedings to deal with teachers who cannot meet the required standard".

He promised the unions would have a seat on the Acas-led team along with the local authorities and the General Teaching Council. The GTC is almost certain to be given strengthened powers under the Education Bill to consider cases of teachers dismissed for incompetence, and if necessary strike them from the register.

But disputes about what constitutes incompetence have dogged the issue, along with union fears over likely Government action to make it easier for directors of education to sack teachers (page five).

Mr Galbraith said the new guidelines would try to address problems of definition and set out "a national standard for capability". They would also "clarify the interaction of discipline with grievance and complaints procedures". Any legislative changes required would depend on the Acas committee's report and the recommendations of the McCrone committee of inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions. Ministers are currently awaiting the outcome of a Court of Session case involving the disputed dismissal of an Edinburgh teacher.

Mr Galbraith reinforced his improving message when he told the HAS that "the standard of more heads has to be raised to that of the best".

He announced a new training programme for serving heads which will be a mix of work-based and conventional approaches. This will complement the Scottish Qualification for Headship which is aimed at aspiring heads.

HMI's Standards and Quality report for 1995-98 found important weaknesses in leadership in a fifth of primaries and 15 per cent of secondaries. This was an improvement on the previous three years but is still too high, Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector, said.

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