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Challenge to barriers for disabled teachers

THE GENERAL Teaching Council for Scotland is to carry out a review of the medical standards applied to disabled teachers before they are accepted for entry into the profession.

Matthew Maciver, the council's depute registrar, said it was anxious to ensure that there are "no unnecessary barriers to people with any kind of disability from entering teaching".

The move follows a GTC seminar run last December with the backing of SKILL, the national bureau for students with disabilities. There, concern was expressed that teaching is not seen as an "inclusive profession".

Norma Anne Watson, the GTC convener, told the meeting: "About a year ago, we were given a clear message in the GTC. We were told that teaching is not a prfession seen as welcoming people with disabilities. That was not a comfortable message for us. We are not happy if that is the perception."

Figures from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council for 1997-98 showed that only 3.2 per cent of students in pre-service teacher education were disabled, compared with 12 per cent in the equivalent general population of people in their early twenties. The council is funding three projects to investigate ways of improving the position.

The teacher education institutions insist that the position of disabled students is improving. Moray House Institute, or example, had 50 registered disabled students five years ago; by the end of last year, the numbers had doubled.

But the GTC medical standards are still seen as belonging to another age. It advises TEIs, for example, that applicants with "handicapping conditions" should be rejected, albeit with the qualification that this should only be done where the disability is so severe that it prevents effective classroom work.

There are also question marks over some conditions such as epilepsy, which TEIs fear could pose health and safety problems. But experts such as Professor Sheila Riddell, who led the Scottish Executive's inquiry into education for disabled people, believes that existing medical standards governing entry to teaching varied widely in their application.

The GTC has decided to act partly to ensure its standards are up to date. But Mr Maciver said it was a timely move now because a bill on disability rights is expected to be introduced into the new Westminster parliamentary session, and this will bring pressure to bear on "gatekeeper" organisations such as the GTC which control entry into various professions.

Kay Barnett, an Aberdeenshire teacher and council member, said it was essential for the GTC to move from "a medical to a social model" in assessing the fitness of candidates for teaching.

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