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Councillor fights citizenship bar

An aspiring modern studies teacher has been prevented from teaching about local government politics because of his commitments as a councillor.

Neil Findlay, a Labour member on West Lothian Council and a member of its education committee, desperately wants to become a fully registered teacher but has fallen foul of strict General Teaching Council of Scotland regulations.

The council has told him he is ineligible for the one-year probationary scheme because of the hours he works as a councillor and he must follow the traditional route for full registration.

"I find it quite bizarre. I feel that there is a real injustice here and I am being penalised for serving my community," Mr Findlay said.

The 35-year-old former bricklayer graduated in modern studies from Glasgow University in June 2003, shortly after being elected in West Lothian.

He expected to begin his probationary year in a North Lanarkshire secondary last August but the GTC ruled out his application.

"I was advised that I would not be allowed any more than 20 days off in the year and if I did take more than that, the GTC would not register me. I had worked out I needed 30 days off. I then asked them how, at a time when education was all about citizenship and encouraging people to be active in their community, it could bar someone from taking part in the new probation scheme because they had taken citizenship to a representative level. This point was never addressed and my application was knocked back.

"The irony of this," he said, "is that had I already been a qualified teacher, I would have had contractual time off for meetings."

Mr Findlay said North Lanarkshire would have been happy enough to comply with his demands for extra time. He believes the system is too rigid to allow for part-time working.

He adds: "I feel if I were a female teacher with a pregnancy, the GTC would have given me an extension. There must be others with similar personal circumstances such as a Territorial Army officer who could be called up or if someone is ill or has childcare problems. At this rate, it will take me around five years to get registered and move off the bottom of the salary scale."

Mr Findlay last year worked between October and June on supply in Falkirk, doing some social subjects, some religious and moral education and study cover for the S5 students. He is at present teaching supply physical education for two days a week.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said the probationers' scheme was established as a full-time scheme and that anyone wanting to work part-time could pursue the alternative, traditional route to full registration, through supply teaching.

"We understand Mr Findlay was unable to make a reasonable estimate of how much time off he would need. The General Teaching Council for Scotland view is that probationers are unlikely to achieve the standard for full registration if they miss more than four weeks of the probationer year," she said. Any non-timetabled elements of the probationers' year were intended for professional development, not councillors' duties.

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