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EU ruling hits schools

A new European directive allows foreign teachers to work in the UK without undergoing stringent background checks.Migrant teachers may be able to work in Scotland without having their backgrounds scrutinised as closely as home-grown staff.

Fears have emerged that a European directive will undermine established standards for teachers applying to register in Scotland.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland is seeking legal advice in an attempt to preserve its more stringent standards. Committee papers from the council outline a number of concerns about the implications of the new directive, which comes into force tomorrow.

This means that an individual can seek work in an EU state other than his or her own for up to a year - with the possibility of this being renewed once a year.

The GTCS does not believe it will have any impact on teachers registering within Scotland, nor other parts of the UK. It stresses that existing European law already allows established teachers from other countries to apply to work in Scotland based on standards of registration in their own country.

But the new directive appears to open up a loophole by introducing "service provision on a temporary or occasional basis", where applicants would be able to work abroad as teachers - and in other professions - without the level of background checks that the GTCS would like.

The GTCS has established that, in such cases, it would not be entitled to subject qualifications to the "robust assessment" that usually applies for applications received from outwith Scotland.

Certain professions where contact with the public could involve a high level of risk - such as medicine and nursing - could be entitled to scrutinise applicants with the rigour usually employed by the GTCS. While "arts therapist" and "childminder (England)" have been included in this category, teaching has not.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland has received no applications invoking the new directive so far, but has outlined a number of concerns should these start to appear. It is not entitled to make an applicant complete the GTCS application form for registration - instead, an applicant would complete a declaration form giving only the information required by the EU directive.

The GTCS is entitled to demand proof of nationality and a statement from the teacher's home country confirming that he or she is recognised as a teacher and that nothing prevents him or her working in the profession.

Evidence of professional qualifications can also be demanded - but it is not clear in what format the General Teaching Council for Scotland would be permitted to ask for these.

The directive also threatens to undermine the GTCS's three main categories of registration: primary, secondary and further education.

The papers say that official recognition in some countries is too "general" by comparison, but it "seems likely" nevertheless that teachers from EU states could register on a generalist basis.

They state: "The council is concerned at the difficulties posed by such 'generalist' qualifications and recognition in relation to allocating a teacher to the appropriate registration category or categories, on which employers then rely in determining the knowledge or ability of a teacher to teach a subject in accordance with the curriculum in Scotland."

The directive may also leave the GTCS out of pocket, as the papers say it "seems unlikely" that it could demand a fee for registration, assessment, enhanced disclosure checks or overseas clearance.

The GTCS has asked its solicitor to look in detail at the implications of the directive, and has underlined that this may serve to assuage its concerns. A spokesman said: "It must be stressed that this is an ongoing situation and as such the GTCS is still forming a view on this issue, so it would be premature at this stage to make any further comment."

A report is expected at the next GTCS council meeting on December 12.

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