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Deal edges closer on competence

The Scottish Executive has billed as "historic" an agreement with the unions and education authorities on teacher discipline and competence.

But the other two parties say a considerable amount of work has now to be done to turn it into a reality.

The new framework is based on 12 broad principles which were hammered out at the first meeting of the new Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers on Monday.

These include an acceptance that a national system to deal with teachers who fall short of the requirements of the job must be "transparent, fair and equitable but capable of meeting local needs". Teachers are promised support "to do the best job they can".

The framework also marks a final agreement by all three parties that teachers should be dismissed by their director of education, not by a majority vote in an education committee. Teachers will have the right of appeal to a subcommittee of councillors, which brings them broadly into line with other local government staff.

A final deal will depend on agreement about the role of the General Teaching Council for Scotland in dealing with cases of competence. The council has still to issue its "standard for full registration", although that is intended to define competence for probationers only.

"The key point for us is to get natinal consistency so that teachers deemed to be incompetent in one authority are not regarded as competent in another," Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said.

Mr Smith said that the GTC must be the body to decide on teachers' fitness to teach.

Dan Brown, head of personnel at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, agreed that defining competence is the most fraught of the issues. Any system had to acknowledge that weak teachers may actually be trying their hardest. But if, after support and remedial help, some are still not up to the job, Mr Brown said, there must be a mechanism for allowing them to leave.

There could also be cases of principal teachers or even heads who may be incompetent in running a department or a school but would be perfectly good teachers, Mr Brown said.

Matthew MacIver, registrar of the GTC, said the new framework should give teachers support "to perform a challenging job with confidence".

The Education Minister assured the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association at its Peebles congress last week (page seven) that he would not indulge in any witch-hunt. He would remain "intolerant" of teachers who fall below an acceptable standard, but it was up to the GTC not politicians to establish what that should be.

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