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Staffroom may be refuge for asylum-seekers

The General Teaching Council for Scotland has signalled its willingness to accept qualified refugees and asylum-seekers into teaching - but without compromising standards.

The issue was aired at a symposium in Edinburgh on Monday in which the GTC joined forces with the Scottish Refugee Council. The two bodies have a mutually reinforcing interest - the GTC to widen the appeal of teaching to under-represented groups and the SRC to promote the skills of refugees so they get a more positive press.

Ian Menter of Paisley University, who chairs a subgroup on asylum-seekers and refugees for the Recruitment of Ethnic Minorities Into Teaching organisation, commented: "One hundred languages are now represented in Scottish schools but there is a shortage of bilingual teachers. There are an estimated 70 refugees and asylum-seekers in Glasgow with teaching experience who could help us address this issue."

Matthew MacIver, the GTC's registrar, told the symposium that there was a general need to widen access into teaching: of 2,000 new teachers starting out last month, only 20 were from ethnic minorities and just eight were disabled.

"We have a profession in Scotland which is usually caricatured as white, middle class and female," Mr MacIver said. He added: "If we are looking at a teaching profession in Scotland that reflects society as a whole, then we have a problem."

Mr MacIver warned, however, that some standards are "non-negotiable": would-be teachers must be graduates and they require Higher English or an equivalent qualification. But he said this should not be a problem since more than 1,000 applications are received in any given year from outside Scotland which meet these conditions.

Mr MacIver suggested that the council could make more use of two transitional arrangements: provisional registration where candidates need to beef up classroom experience, and conditional registration where there is an academic deficit.

He accepted that the need to attract groups like refugees "places a very specific responsibility on us to tell applicants in clear and understandable language what they have to do to meet our entry requirements. It is not enough to tell them that they are not acceptable.

It is of extreme importance that we point them very firmly in the right direction and make specific recommendations."

Hagos Sinkie from Ethiopia, who teaches at Toryglen primary in Glasgow, said he had had to struggle for four years to be accepted by Jordanhill, "a painful experience". But his work in Glasgow schools since 1990 has been "enlightening and fulfilling".

Christina Chipo Chieza from Zimbabwe told the meeting that the support she received from management and English department colleagues at Lasswade High in Midlothian had been "fantastic". But she felt more could be done to explain the Scottish system to overseas teachers once they have found a job here.

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