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'Stab in back' for probationers

The General Teaching Council for Scotland has reacted with fury to what its registrar called "well-founded" suspicions that local authorities and the Scottish Executive Education Department plan to renege on the agreement for probationer training.

The suggestion has been emphatically denied by the department.

The council, meeting in Edinburgh on Wednesday, heard claims that secret talks had been held and, in an effort to cut costs, there had been a deal that probationers would be appointed to fill vacancies.

This was contrary to the original plan, part of the post-McCrone settlement, to establish a guaranteed one-year probationary period from August next year which would make trainee teachers additional to the staffing complement of the school. The McCrone report roundly condemned the fragmented probationary experience of young teachers as "little short of scandalous".

Ivor Sutherland, the GTC's registrar, attending his final meeting before retiring, said the changes amounted to "welshing on a deal". Mr Sutherland added: "This is more serious than we are imagining and I am seriously disturbed."

John Oates, who represents the Catholic Church on the GTC, said the council would never have agreed to support a one-year training period for probationers instead of the present two years if it had known of the proposal.

Matthew MacIver, the GTC's registrar-designate, said the Excutive had assured him it was standing by the concept of a one-year "training post".

The issue had been raised by May Ferries, convener of the probation committee, who said there was speculation that authorities will be required to use vacancies for probationers instead of creating additional posts and that they would have to part-fund the posts.

The agreement also allows for probationers to be given some remission from teaching, equivalent to 0.3 of a full-time post, while the Executive would pay for senior staff to be given mentoring time for each new teacher. Ms Ferries said these elements had been absolutely crucial to acceptance of the changes. "There is now a danger of an expedient financial decision being taken without an understanding of the complexities and the full implications," she said.

Douglas Weir, dean of the education faculty at Strathclyde University, said students were being recruited now in the expectation that they will be allocated to a training post next year. "We need immediate clarification because uncertainty could imperil our ability to recruit students," Mr Weir said.

The SEED insists, however, that there have been no formal discussions or negotiations between the unions, education authorities and the Executive on the details of implementing the post-McCrone agreement. "What has been agreed there is all that has been agreed," a source said.

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