Anthony Finn

7th December 2012 at 00:00
The chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland discusses the introduction of new professional standards for teachers, the changing approach to discplinary procedures and revised entry-level qualifications for newcomers. Interview by Henry Hepburn Photography James Glossop

The General Teaching Council for England no longer exists. Why do we need one in Scotland?

In England there's been a breakdown in any reasonable requirement for standards of conduct, there is no assessment of competence and no body which promotes high standards across teaching. There are inherent risks in that system.

There have been concerns that the new professional standards might be used as an audit. Can you offer any reassurance?

The professional standards are not there to create difficulties for teachers. They are meant to provide opportunities for teachers who have gone beyond the basic, initial standard, to consider ways in which they might develop their skills. But that will be on a programme led by them, following their interests, which isn't compulsory.

Professional update is going to make career-long learning a requirement. Will that increase workloads?

All we're saying is that professional update should require teachers to keep reflecting on what they need to do, as their job and society change. That shouldn't be much different from what teachers do now. Whether it has an implication for workload or not, I'm not sure.

When can we expect professional update to be introduced across Scotland?

From August 2013 we have the second stage of the pilot, and many more schools will be involved. From August 2014 all local authorities and schools will be involved, and 20 per cent of the cohort will go through the process each year.

What action could the GTCS take if teachers suggested they weren't happy with CPD in their local authority?

We will sample the outcomes to show that we are taking an interest in how successfully the programme has been delivered. But I don't anticipate that we will get involved in a specific case in a specific school. The unions and authorities should sort it out through appeals and grievance procedures. If there is a fault in the system in a particular area, it might come back to us to have a look at it, because we validate programmes.

It's four years since the first case of a teacher being struck off by the GTCS for incompetence. Are you happy with how things have panned out since new disciplinary powers came into force?

Some 12 teachers have come through that (competence) process, and we have tried to make it less difficult for those experiencing it. We've introduced "consensual resolutions" - including, for example, the case of somebody who offers no defence against a charge. Then there have been cases involving criminal convictions where everybody knew the nature of the offence was likely to lead to a particular outcome, but we were unable, because of the statute at that time, to agree with the teacher to shorten the process. We have changed that since independence.

How did you feel when photographers were staking out side entrances at the GTCS? Does that come with the territory?

We've been very uncomfortable with that. Some people whose only failing was in a technical or professional sense were subjected to the type of interrogation and publicity which you might associate with a heinous criminal. We accept that to some extent, because this is a public body, but we do feel sorry for those who have gone through it.

Why is the GTCS reviewing requirements for entry into initial teacher education?

First, because we regularly do. If you consider what's been happening in the past four or five years, when a range of new courses have been introduced, there will be a need to consider whether the qualifications we require at teacher entry are still appropriate. Second, there are from time to time subjects that come into fashion and become more interesting - we need to look at those. Also, Curriculum for Excellence puts pressure on teachers to be able to teach beyond the narrow confines of their own subject.

A national assessment centre for prospective student teachers was mooted in Donaldson - is that still a possibility?

I think Graham Donaldson has been misinterpreted. People assumed that he was saying there was a large number of teachers who can't read or write. I don't think that's the case. What he wants to do is help teachers themselves identify which areas they might improve in terms of their literacy and numeracy. We will need to consider whether at the entry stage we need to tighten standards.

How confident are you that the placement problems experienced by students this year won't be repeated?

There have been problems every year. I think we are moving towards improvements in that system. The Practicum arrangements the GTC is now taking responsibility for are entirely new to us. I'm pretty confident that we'll be doing our very best to make sure that what happens next year is much better than what happened this year - and in any previous year.

What's been your proudest moment since becoming chief executive?

Probably GTCS independence. It's strange to say, because independence became just another day. When we achieved it, everyone thought, "Yes, this is working fine." I was proud of the work that my colleagues had done over two years to make sure that, on the day, everything worked.


Born: Irvine, 1951

Education: St Joseph's High, Kilmarnock; French and hispanic studies at University of Glasgow; Jordanhill College of Education

Career: Modern languages teacher, Ayrshire; 17 years as headteacher of St Andrew's High in Kirkcaldy, Fife; senior manager (education) in Fife; chief executive of General Teaching Council for Scotland since 2008.

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